FARMINGTON — A decision regarding the future of the Bountiful High School mascot name, which has garnered a petition to remove it and another to keep it, will ultimately come from the school’s administration, the Davis County School District superintendent said during a meeting Tuesday evening.
During the school board meeting, district superintendent Reid Newey said he has met with Bountiful High principal Aaron Hogge, and that the issue will be handled “with urgency” by the school.
The school has had the Braves nickname since it opened in 1951. It has been under scrutiny over the past two weeks amid a rekindled national discussion about Native American mascots. A spokesperson for the district told KSL.com last week that Hogge had worked to remove Native American caricature from the school's logo when he took over in 2017. Nickname imagery at the school currently includes a feather and an arrow.
“We will be meeting with (Hogge) further and supporting him and his administration and organization of their focus areas and focus groups,” Newey said. “We’ll keep that as a school-based process that then will bring to the board the recommendation in the hopes of generating a board resolution. At a district level, we’ll be supporting Mr. Hogge in the school-level process.”
Newey added that he will keep the district school board apprised of any developments regarding the school’s mascot name. The superintendent’s comments came after a public comment period about issues within the Davis County School District, including moving testimony from a student at the school and her experience.
Lemiley Lane, who identified herself as a junior at Bountiful High and a member of the Navajo tribe, said she moved to the Bountiful area from Page, Arizona. She told the board that she enjoyed the school and her experience but was disheartened by an experience she had while attending an assembly last August.
The event was fun until a moment near the end when the lights went off and then a person appeared on stage in Native American attire — attire she said that is considered sacred to Native American tribes.
“I saw this guy coming from the left of the auditorium and walking onto the stage dress up as a chief — costume and headdress. I gathered my things and walked out. I walked around the school halls until the assembly was dismissed. I never felt so alone,” she said. “I had to reach out to my mother to tell her what had just happened. … I could not believe that this was OK to everyone around me. No one asked if I was OK.”
By that point, she felt she couldn’t speak out because she feared backlash or that she would be bullied. She also chose not to attend any other assembly after that experience. But as the discussion about the nickname continues, she said she had to speak out.
“Today I’m speaking out because there will be more Native American students coming to attend this school in the future. So, is the type of behavior that’s OK?” she asked the board. “It is sacred. It is our culture and not a costume. … It’s not cute or funny. It’s not honoring the indigenous people.”
The district’s public comment period only allows six people to provide testimony on a wide range of issues. Each individual has 3 minutes to speak. Of those who delivered comments Tuesday, only two spoke about the mascot issue.
Alan Mortensen, a Salt Lake City attorney who lives in Bountiful, also voiced his support of a mascot name change during the meeting. He told the board that his children have gone to the school and had positive experiences. His extended family also has extensive ties to the school and community.
“Things have changed in my mind. I viewed it as an honor to Native Americans that we would use the name Braves, but with the pandemic we’ve had a little extra time, and I’ve done quite a bit of reading, and my children have gotten involved … they want to change the name,” he said.
“The chaos of the cause is not ever going to go away until the name changes, and we have new students that come in and start a new tradition,” he added.
It’s not just about the research. He told the board about a run-in with an employee of his who also lives in Bountiful and is part Native American. The employee told Mortensen that opposing football players would walk onto a football field through a path dubbed the “Trail of Tears” — seemingly mocking the name given for a series of Native American relocations by U.S. leaders in the 19th century.
“I have really come to terms that this is harmful for people,” Mortensen concluded.
A small group of people pushing for a name change who had hoped to speak during the meeting issued statements outside the building after the public comment period ended.
The discussion about the mascot name was brought up through a petition to remove it that was launched on July 4. Since then, it’s received more than 4,400 signatures and endorsements from Native American-led groups like the Utah League of Native American Voters, Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue, and Organizing Support and the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Relatives of Utah.
A petition seeking to keep the name was launched days after, showing a split among those with Bountiful ties. It has received more than 5,300 signatures and was supported by the Native American Guardian’s Association.
It's also come at a time when professional sports teams with Native American nicknames have announced changes. The Washington NFL team announced on Monday it would retire its "Redskins" nickname after 87 years. Cleveland Indians ownership said they were looking into their organization's nickname; Atlanta Braves officials said they will not change their nickname but would review Tomahawk Chop chants during games, WXIA in Atlanta reported.
No timeline for a decision was provided by Newey during Tuesday’s meeting. Hogge has not responded to requests for comment by KSL.
The new school year is set to begin Aug. 25; in a statement issued Monday, Carl Moore, the founder and chairperson of PANDOS, said that they hope the change is made before the 2021-2022 school year.