Bountiful High paints over American Indian drawings — but mascot’s fate won’t be decided until December

(Photo courtesy of LeMichelle Lane) Pictured are the sidewalks at Bountiful High School, which used to have the school's American Indian mascot painted on them. That was covered over recently as Davis School District considers whether to retire The Braves name.

Bountiful High School has painted over the drawings of Native American men, teepees and tomahawks that used to cover its sidewalks — a move that comes as a new committee considers whether to altogether retire the controversial mascot, the Braves.

LeMichelle Lane said she first noticed the depictions start to disappear midway through August. She had been walking around the school her 16-year-old daughter, Lemiley, attends and was used to seeing them on the grounds.

Then, she saw, some had been covered over with gray paint to match the cement. Others appeared to have been sprayed off with a pressure hose. She took pictures of the changes, and by the end of the month, they were all gone.

“It’s a good step,” Lane said. “It’s good that they’re removing this imagery.”

Lane and her daughter are Navajo, and Lemiley is one of the few American Indian students at the largely white school just north of Salt Lake City. The family has been part of the recent push to retire the mascot that started with the nationwide rallies against racism this summer, prompting cities to remove statues and schools and sports teams to reexamine their names.

Bountiful High School has had the Braves moniker for nearly 70 years. And that has led to a tradition of white students dressing up as the Native mascot and others painting themselves red and putting on war paint to attend games.

Davis School District has already promised those types of displays would no longer be allowed. But in the meantime, as the discussion on whether to keep the mascot moves forward, the school also has now decided to permanently retire all tribal imagery outside of the letter B with a feather on the side.

Spokesperson Christopher Williams confirmed Tuesday that’s what led to removing the painted pictures on the sidewalks before students returned for classes this fall on a hybrid schedule during the pandemic.

(Photo courtesy of LeMichelle Lane) Pictured are the sidewalks at Bountiful High School, which used to have the school's American Indian mascot painted on them. That was covered over recently as Davis School District considers whether to retire The Braves name.

The images previously included several exaggerated depictions of Native chiefs in headdresses and long noses. There were also red handprints, arrows and dream catchers. One cement section included the saying, “Fight like a Brave.” Another said, “Welcome to the Dark Side.”

“There have been efforts to focus only on the logo,” Williams said. “So any depiction of a Native American face or a Native American on a horse or anything like that has been painted over. There were practices that were done over the years, and they have have been offensive and needed to stop.”

Lane said she felt the depictions stereotyped American Indians. “They think that’s who we all are,” she said. “It’s sad, and it’s hurtful.”

The mascot has divided the city of Bountiful, where some view the Braves as a legacy that honors tribes and others says it’s racist and doesn’t refer to any one group of Natives. They have created dueling petitions.

Meanwhile, the school has now formed a committee to discuss and study the issue. The 14-member group had its first meeting this week. It is tasked with deciding by December what to do with the mascot.

On Dec. 1, Principal Aaron Hogge will present the committee’s decision to the district’s school board. If the members decide to retire the mascot, a replacement will then be picked in the spring.

“A mascot can have an impact on the unifying” of a community, Hogge told the Bountiful City Council during a meeting last month. “It has come to our attention that some don’t feel that our mascot is that unifying.”

The committee will include Hogge, the school’s two assistant principals and a representative each from the Davis Education Association, the local school community council and the Parent Teacher Student Association. Bountiful High’s student body president and an officer from each grade level also will participate.

Though those individuals will make the committee majority white, four Native American students have been invited to join it. Lemiley Lane is one of those and plans to participate, her mother said.

LeMichelle Lane worries about the group being skewed, but she hopes the members will listen to Native voices on an issue that impacts them personally.

“People think that our history is done and we should get over it,” she said. “It’s still going on today, though.”

Even with the new restrictions on Native imagery, Lane added, students were still wearing some paraphernalia, including feathers and face paint at Bountiful’s first football game. She’d like to see the mascot removed to put an end to that. At the same time, she worries about her daughter being singled out for speaking out.

In addition to the committee members, though, there will be another group of what the district is calling “consultants” advising during the process. That will include the Davis School District equity director and Indian affairs program director, as well as the Title XI coordinator for the state that oversees Native American education. Williams said a member of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone Nation, which previously lived on the land that is now Bountiful, will also join the discussion.

The district, Williams added, wants to make sure everyone is included, especially those who are the most disenfranchised.

It will be holding two public listening sessions next month, as well, to collect community feedback. Those will be at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 and Oct. 13 in the Bountiful High auditorium with social distancing requirements.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, which tracks Native mascot usage, 208 schools around the country currently go by the Braves name, including Bountiful.