A number of witnesses who testified on behalf of House Bill 1165mentioned the tribe they belonged to and how hurtful it was to be depicted as a caricature, particularly a big-nosed, loinclothed savage, and to watch students do war chants and tomahawk chops at sporting events.
"We are not a Halloween costume," one crying student said.
"I am not a mascot," another witness said.
But John Sampson, a school board member with Strasburg 31J, testified against the bill, saying the district has been called the Indians for decades and uses the name with honor.
The House Education Committee voted 6-5 on a party-line vote to approve the measure by Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora.
The bill would create the Subcommittee for the Consideration of the Use of American Indian Mascots by Public Schools that would meet and decide whether a school — from K-12 to higher education — with an Indian mascot could continue using it. Part of the determination is whether the district has developed a relationship with a tribe.
Salazar said he found it unlikely the panel would approve of the Lamar High School Savages.
Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, was among the "no" votes, saying the conversation was important but noting some schools and teams have changed repugnant mascots without legislative action.
Salazar and Melton opened with a slide show featuring offensive nicknames for other ethnic groups, including the N-word. They said those kind of team names would never be tolerated and neither should names like Redskins or Savages.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, demanded the slide show be turned off or she would leave. Fields, who is black, said she refused to sit in a committee with the N-word flashing on a screen.
The tribe immediately reached out to Arapahoe High after a fatal school shooting on Dec. 13, 2013, and performed a cleansing ceremony before it reopened, parent Steve Haas tearfully testified when he spoke in favor of the bill.
But some witnesses said an American Indian name or mascot should never be used.
But districts that continue to use a mascot that the subcommittee has rejected eventually would face a monthly $25,000 fine, an idea that doesn't sit well with Rep. Tim Dore, R-Elizabeth.
"It's political correctness gone amuck," he said. "We're talking about schools struggling to make payroll and buy supplies, and this bill would fine schools, which ultimately penalizes the kids."
A similar mascot measure was introduced in 2010 but was withdrawn by the sponsor, then-Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora. She said she no longer believed legislation was needed to highlight the issue.
At the time, schools defended their use of the names. For example, Yuma High School officialsexplained they used to be the Cornhuskers, but the name was changed early last century to honor American Indians. The principal at the time was steeped in American Indian history and traditions.
Some Colorado teams have already dropped their American Indian monikers.
The University of Southern Colorado — now Colorado State University-Pueblo — transformed from the Indians to the Thunderwolves in 1995, and Adams State College in Alamosa switched from the Indians to the Grizzlies in 1996.
Among the high school team names Salazar finds the most offensive: the Lamar Savages, the La Veta Redskins and the Eaton Reds, also known as the Fightin' Reds, where the mascot is an Indian with a misshapen nose, eagle feather and loincloth.
Eaton made national news in 2002 when a multiracial intramural team at the University of Northern Colorado lampooned it. The UNC crew called its team the Fightin' Whities, which featured a caricature of a middle-aged white guy with the phrase "Ever-hang's gonna be all white!"
Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, email@example.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels