School board, tribal senate agree to keep Braves mascot


La Conner High will remain the home of the Braves.

The school district’s board of trustees on Monday formally approved a unanimous Swinomish Tribal Senate resolution supporting retention of the Braves name for La Conner athletic and academic teams.

Board president Susie Deyo joined members Amanda Bourgeois, John Agen and Lynette Cram in approving the Senate measure.

Board member J.J. Wilbur, who also serves on the Swinomish Senate, abstained.

The joint tribal-school district action is in accordance with state legislation passed earlier this year that bans use of Native American names, symbols and images by most public schools in Washington.

However, in the case of La Conner – whose district includes the Swinomish Reservation – the fate of its decades old mascot was to be determined by local tribal officials, based on the bill introduced by State Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow).

The Lekanoff proposal, which passed by wide margins in both houses of the state legislature last spring and was promptly signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, was designed to eliminate hurtful imagery that promoted negative stereotypes of Native Americans.

It also encouraged collaboration between those districts within or adjacent to Native American areas and affected tribal communities – as was the case in dialogue shared by school district officials and the Swinomish Tribal Senate.

School board members indicated further Swinomish input will likely be forthcoming regarding the status of icons and symbols on campus, such as those depicting Plains Indians headdresses, that do not accurately reflect Coast Salish culture or history.

“This was a very important (tribal) resolution,” said Deyo, a La Conner alum.

Board members said their understanding is the legislation provides funding to districts that must replace sports uniforms, artwork, or other symbols deemed inappropriate under the new law.

“I believe there is language in the bill that says it doesn’t want to burden school districts,” Cram said.

La Conner sports teams were originally named the Malemutes. The Braves mascot was adopted to acknowledge inclusion of Swinomish tribal students in the schools here. The Braves moniker has largely been considered a symbol of Swinomish empowerment, though by today’s standards it has occasionally missed the mark.

In the 1950s and 1960s it wasn’t uncommon to see ads reading “Scalp ‘Em, Braves” in La Conner sports programs. At one point during the 1970s, each La Conner starting varsity basketball player was introduced as “a red man, braver than a white man, pow-wow.”

Several years ago, at the behest of Swinomish leadership, La Conner Schools began eliminating Native American caricatures from its logos, replacing those with an interlocking L and C.

In related district developments:

• New Superintendent Will Nelson and Business Manager Brian Gianello, also in his first year with the district, reported on summer training sessions they have attended.

Gianello logged into the Monday board meeting and budget public hearing from “business manager’s school.” He described it as “a great conference” that has addressed statewide issues ranging from student enrollment, facilities maintenance and campus infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of good ideas I’ll come back with,” Gianello said.

For Nelson and fellow superintendents, the focus at their conference was communication.

“We learned a lot about communication – communication with the school board, community and students.

Student voice was a major theme.”

• Gianello and Nelson said the district is budgeting for 578 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) students in the 2021-2022 academic year, down from 603 students last year. “This is a good, conservative estimate,” said Gianello. “Enrollment is hard to project coming off a COVID year.”

• La Conner Schools will begin 2021-22 with a full-time, in-person instructional format. There are also plans to provide a distance learning option for families hesitant to have their children return to campus and as a back-up option should COVID-19 numbers spike again.

• Nelson said the district sustained between $3,000 and $4,000 in property damage last week when someone drove through the gravel high school parking lot and did a series of “donuts” that flung rocks through windows of parked school buses. The timing of that vandalism was not favorable to the district. The incident occurred prior to installation of new surveillance cameras, said Nelson. School officials are asking members of the public with pertinent information to come forward. District leaders will consider new bus parking security, according to Nelson. “We have some work to do,” he acknowledged.


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