'Brave' New World

Boise High changes its mascot amid conversations with Shoshone-Bannock Tribe


Boise High students are no longer "the Braves." After a meeting the evening of Aug. 12, the Boise School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved a motion to change the mascot to the Brave. By dropping the "s" from the former mascot, the new mascot embodies a value rather than a stereotype, according to the district.

The decision was widely debated, with some saying the change erases the school's history, and others saying simply dropping a letter from the name is doesn't go far enough.

"Personally, I'm in the camp of the people who think it's not enough of a change," said Tai Simpson, an indigenous activist and member of the Nez Perce tribe."I can't think of any school ever that's used an adjective as a mascot."

On the opposite side, a protest group, Save the Boise Braves, gathered signatures to get the school board to slow the process—an ultimately unsuccessful move.

Boise High Principal Robb Thompson said this is one of the final steps to right past wrongs. The school has been working since 2014 to rid the school of negative imagery showing indigenous people as a caricature.

"Every day is a good day to be brave," Thompson said at the meeting, the Idaho Press reported.

According to the Idaho Press report, 27 people testified at the meeting. Of those, 24 were in favor of the change.

"Boise Schools has always been able to move forward while respecting the past. The administration's recommendation does not erase, nor diminish, Boise High's past," Boise High staff member Denise Donovan stated in a written testimony to the board.

The change has been largely well-received by local tribes. The school district worked with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe to enact the change and come up with a solution for replacing the insensitive mascot.

"I've seen countless stereotypical mascots from Braves to Savages to Indians," said Lori Edmo-Suppah, editor of the Sho-Ban News, the Shoshone-Bannock newspaper. "It's a matter of respect."

Edmo-Suppah said that she does not speak for the tribe, but believes personally that Boise High is taking appropriate steps regarding the mascot. She said she has heard arguments that the mascots are not forms of mockery, but rather a sign of respect for indigenous people. To her mind, that's nonsense.

"They're white people who think they're honoring [us] and they're not," she said. "It's a colonized view."

Edmo-Suppah said the solution is simple: Listen to indigenous people. There are those who think they know what's best and what's respectful, but she said most indigenous people are opposed to the mascots and want to see them change.

"I don't see how they can continue on with the way they are," she said.

Edmo-Suppah has covered high school sports in Idaho for more than 20 years, and said she has been ejected from sporting events in the past for telling coaches or school officials their indigenous mascots are insulting.

"I think what's most important is, it's about respect," she said. "Realize there's no honor in their mascots."

Replacing "The Braves" isn't the only change that needs to happen, but it's a step in the right direction, she added. Oregon, Washington, Montana and Wyoming are adjusting their curricula to include indigenous perspectives, and Edmo-Suppah said Idaho should follow suit.

"All you read about in Idaho history is from a white-man perspective," she said. "That's what history books are all about."

The Shoshone-Bannock isn't the only Idaho tribe to rally against native mascots. The Nez Perce have also taken a stand on mascots in other parts of Idaho. On June 14, the Nez Perce sent a letter to the Teton School District in support of changing the district's mascot, "the Redskins," which is a racial slur. While there are a number of variant explanations for the word "redskin," including Natives' use of red clay on the east coast and a derogatory comment on Natives' skin color, the letter pointed to a more violent origin rooted in the government call for Native scalps.

"We understand that school alumni may have a well-formed connection with the mascot; however, we believe that the harm of using such a mascot outweighs any benefit of that connection," the letter states.

A representative of the Nez Perce said local tribes should be consulted as a matter of policy when it comes to retiring their Native mascots.

The change has also been embraced by many Boise High students and graduates. Ezra Hampikian, a Boise High alum who once wore the mascot costume, has since become a fierce opponent of the mascot and an advocate for its replacement, urging school districts to discuss their potentially offensive mascots with local tribes.

"I think it's really, really important to listen to indigenous voices when making this decision," she said.