Bountiful High School will abandon its controversial American Indian mascot this fall, dropping the imagery many saw as racist and taking on a new, more neutral name: “The Redhawks.”
Principal Aaron Hogge announced the selection in a video Friday morning. It came after months of study, a series of tense town halls and two dueling petitions fighting for and against keeping “The Braves” mascot that the school had held onto since 1951.
In the end, Hogge said, he felt a new name was needed to move forward.
And he believes the red-tailed hawk is a powerful, “culturally sensitive” symbol that students can rally behind and that represents the area of the school, just north of Salt Lake City.
“The identifying characteristics of these hawks are keen eyesight, binocular vision and powerful talons,” he said in the recorded message. “It is one of the biggest birds of prey found in the mountains above Bountiful.”
The class of 2021 will be the last to graduate under “The Braves” name. The school will use the summer to rebrand. When students return in August, they’ll be using the new hawk mascot.
Hogge said the school’s song and colors, red and gray, will remain the same. But any Native American imagery will go.
The school has already begun to paint over the many stereotypical depictions of Indigenous peoples on its sidewalks, including exaggerated depictions of American Indian chiefs in headdresses with 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” with a person’s face depicted with red skin.
Bountiful High will continue to remove other paintings and the name inside the school.
While Hogge said Friday he appreciated “the input and support of our community in renaming the mascot,” it started as a highly divisive process before getting to this point.
The debate over the mascot began with the nationwide rallies against racism last year that prompted some communities to remove statues and a handful of sports teams to reexamine their use of Native American names and symbols. A small group of alumni and Indigenous groups in Utah asked Davis School District at the time to reconsider its use of the mascot at Bountiful High.
But many more white alumni from the mostly white school in Bountiful fought back, arguing that “The Braves” should be seen as honoring tribes. The mayor joined them, telling one woman who objected to be “less easily offended.”
Some continued to scoff at the change Friday, with one man on social media calling it “cancel culture” and another blaming people for being “too sensitive.”
Hogge said the decision to drop “The Braves” shouldn’t change anyone’s pride in Bountiful High or their memories of when they were students.
The principal originally announced the mascot would be replaced in November after hearing from a committee of tribal leaders, including the local Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, and students, including the small handful of kids there who identify as Native American.
They felt the mascot was hurtful. “The Braves” is a vague term that doesn’t refer to any one group, painting all tribes with the same broad stroke, they said. And many sacred symbols from several tribes were incorporated into school traditions without respect to their origins.
They pointed to students wearing red face paint and feathers, as well as doing “the tomahawk chop” at games. At assemblies, a student would get onstage in a headdress and start whooping and hollering. At football games, the opposing team’s entrance was called “The Trail of Tears,” referring to the forced relocation of thousands of American Indians in the 1800s, who were made to move mostly to Oklahoma; at least 3,000 died along the way.
“We weren’t teaching about Native American culture, but we were using the mascot,” Lemiley Lane, a Navajo student at the school has previously told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Lane and her family pushed for the change and were happy, they said, that their voice was heard.
The Change the Mascot UT group, which also advocated for a new mascot at Bountiful High and at other schools throughout the state, celebrated Friday with the announcement.
Chris Williams, the spokesperson for Davis School District, said “The Redhawks” was one of more than 100 suggestions to replace “The Braves” that came from students. The most popular recommendation had been to change to “The Brave,” as a general symbol of courage and referencing the national anthem lyric “home of the brave.”
But the district felt it was too close, he said, and eliminated from the options.
The final four choices were “The Redhawks,” a lightning bolt, bears and trailblazers.
Now that it has decided to move forward with the red-tailed hawk, the school is working to finalize a logo. It released a draft image Friday in its video with a red hawk cartoon and an outline of the mountains above Bountiful.
“Like all things that are worthwhile, it was difficult in a worthwhile way,” Hogge said. “But we’re excited. It came from student input. And we wanted to have a mascot and logo that students could relate to.”
The new design is similar to one chosen by the University of Utah, which for the most part uses “Swoop,” also a red-tailed hawk, as its mascot. The university also has a longstanding agreement with the Ute Indian Tribe to selectively use the name “Utes” for sports. But it has moved away from most tribal imagery surrounding that.
The change at Bountiful High also comes after a similarly contentious process at Cedar High in southern Utah in 2019. After concerns over racist imagery, the school switched from “The Redmen” to “The Reds.” And there’s still ongoing debate about it. It’s come under question again, with two men winning school board seats in November who ran on restoring the “Redmen” name.
Meanwhile, other schools in Utah with Native American imagery haven’t had any conversation about removing it. In fact, North Summit High in Coalville continues to use “The Braves.” And Escalante High in southern Utah goes by the name of “The Moquis” for a tribe nearby (though some question whether the term is actually a racist nickname).
A nonbinding resolution presented in the Utah Legislature this last session that would have encouraged schools here to retire their Indigenous imagery failed to pass after several conservative lawmakers spoke against it.