State Views: Bill lets communities rule on Indian nicknames

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Rep. Steve Nass
Friday, October 25, 2013

I’ve been involved in the debate over Indian logos, mascots and team names since my first term started in 1991. It has been my honor to represent communities that have traditionally used Indian team names, mascots and logos.

I’ve always believed this matter should be resolved at the community level and after thorough discussion involving all interested parties. I support decisions of communities that opt to maintain traditional logos, mascots and team names and those school districts with community support that decide to adopt new traditions.

Since 1985, every student has been protected by the Wisconsin Pupil Non-Discrimination Law (ss. 118.13). This law, combined with federal protections, has provided a legal route for students and families to address any denial of access to, benefit of, or discrimination in educational services provided by schools. At least four times complaints were raised regarding Indian logos, mascots and team names under this law. In each case, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) determined the mere existence of Indian logos, mascots, and team names wasn’t evidence of discrimination under the law.

The past two decades have brought sporadic attempts to change state law to achieve a ban. All efforts failed until 2009. Then, Gov. Doyle signed into law Act 250 creating the race-based team names, logos and mascots statute (ss. 118.134). This unfair law is nothing less than a creeping state ban on use of Indian logos, mascots and team names.

It’s important to keep in mind that something thought to be offensive by an individual(s) isn’t automatically discriminatory. These are two separate matters under the law and societal norms. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights made a similar ruling regarding discrimination allegations leveled against three-dozen Michigan schools with Indian logos, mascots and team names. Schools in Michigan and Wisconsin with Indian logos, mascots and team names comply with state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Assembly Bill 297 is here today because of the principled stand taken by citizens of the Mukwonago School District in battling the unfair implementation of the Doyle-era law. It’s important to note that a Waukesha County judge ruled that parts of 2009 Act 250 were unconstitutional and the DPI’s hearing officer in the Mukwonago case was clearly biased against the district.

The original version of AB 297 proposed complete repeal of the creeping state ban. After numerous discussions with interested parties, I amended my bill to create a time-honored complaint process, including the need for more than one person filing an objection, the standard burden on a complainant to provide evidence of the alleged inappropriate harm and due process protections for both sides. My bill does not change the separate Wisconsin Pupil Non-Discrimination Law.

Assembly Bill 297 creates a fair and balanced process going forward that encourages this issue to be addressed at the community level through discussions with the tribes, while still providing a state remedy procedure to address instances of inappropriate conduct in the use of Indian logos, mascots and team names.

State Rep. Steve Nass, R-La Grange, is the author of Assembly Bill 297. He represents the state’s 33rd Assembly District, which includes Mukwonago, the home of the Indians and Fort Atkinson, the home of the Blackhawks. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 8953, Madison, WI 53708; email Rep.Nass@legis.Wisconsin.gov; phone 888-529-0033.

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