KENNEWICK — Fifty years ago, Kennewick and Yakama tribal officials stood side-by-side as they opened Kamiakin High School.
Now school district officials are putting together a presentation to show how Native American history and culture have impacted the district’s curriculum.
The school district plans to ask the Yakama Tribe for permission to continue using the Braves name and logo for Kamiakin High School, and the Thunderbirds name and logo for Legacy High School.
The request follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s signing of a new law that prohibits schools from using Native American names, symbols or images as mascots, logos or team names.
Kamiakin High School’s name would not be affected by the law.
Officials are developing the summary of the curriculum and a history of the mascots before reaching out to tribal council leaders, said Robyn Chastain, the district’s executive director of communications and public relations.
“The district has the highest respect for local tribal history and culture, and the school board-approved social studies curriculum incorporates learning about tribal history, culture and government,” Chastain said.
The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation has yet to make a statement on whether they will agree to let the school district keep using the names.
When he signed the bill, Inslee said it will end the “disrespectful use of Native American imagery in our public schools.”
The bill had overwhelming support from legislators, passing 92-5 in the House and 40-9 in the Senate. Tri-Cities Reps. Matt Boehnke and Brad Klippert and Sen. Sharon Brown voted against the bill.
As part of the new rules, schools have until Jan. 1, 2022, to stop using the names and symbols. Schools where tribes exist in bordering counties can ask those tribes for permission to use the symbols.
History of the school
The Kennewick district has reason to be optimistic, after receiving permission in 1970 when Kamiakin High was initially named.
The school was named after Chief Kamiakin, a leader of the Yakama, Palouse and Klickitat people in the mid-1800s in southeastern Washington.
District officials picked the name out of respect for area indigenous people. At the time, school administrators worked with the Yakama tribe and Kamiakin’s relatives, Chastain explained.
Tribal members, including Kamiakin’s great-great-great granddaughter, were involved with opening the school in 1970. Events included a presentation about the history and culture of the Yakamas.
The Braves name was chosen to symbolize “courage and strength,” she said. And recent years, the Yakama Nation has not complained to the district.
The state Board of Education adopted a resolution in 1993 asking districts to review “building names, mascots, logos, activities, events, portrayal of caricatures and behaviors” to make sure they weren’t derogatory.
The board returned to the issue in 2012 with a resolution directing districts to stop using the names and mascots.
At the time, Kennewick leaders said the the topic had come up over the years, but there was never a serious push to change it.
In Washington state, 35 of the 420 high schools in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association have Native American-themed names, such as the Raiders, Chiefs Red Devils and Red Raiders.
In addition to the Braves, The Wahluke Warriors from Mattawa and the Touchet Indians from Walla Walla County are among the schools on that list.
Seven schools already were considering a change before the measure was introduced.
Moses Lake, which has three schools on the list, is already working with the Colville Confederated Tribes, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.