On Monday, June 28, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law that officially bans Native American mascots in Colorado public schools. The law includes a provision that schools that have agreements with nearby tribes before June 30 are exempt from the ban, but no formal agreement exists for Montrose.

Montrose High School, as well as Centennial Middle School, have until June 1, 2022 to pick replacements for the “Indians” and “Braves,” respectively. If schools do not comply, they must pay a $25,000 monthly fee.

Montrose High School is one of two dozen public schools statewide that are affected by the new law that will require a complete overhaul of uniforms, regalia and decorations. At the school board meeting on June 22, Superintendent Carrie Stevenson estimated that the transition to a new mascot may cost between $500,000 and $750,000.

Schools are eligible to apply for a state-funded grant to offset costs of replacing the mascots. In a signing statement, Polis expressed concern about the financial and logistical burden placed on school districts and encouraged legislators to consider the “financial implications” and “short timeline for remedial actions.”

Students and staff from the school had mixed feelings about the change, but expressed optimism about finding a new mascot as a community.

“Personally, it’s going to be hard to see the mascot go because it’s such a staple in the high school community,” Luca Field, a rising senior who will serve as the student body president, reflected. “It means a lot to students and it means a lot to staff, but ethically I think it will be good because it’s been a problem for a very long time.”

Activists have called to change the mascot in Montrose since at least 2002. Cries to remove Native American mascots have picked up steam within the past year as high-profile police shootings of Black Americans prompted a nationwide reckoning with systemic racism.

State Sen. Don Coram, an alumnus of Montrose High School, told the Daily Press in March before the bill passed the Democrat-led General Assembly that he supported the Indians mascot “because in our community, it’s used as honor and respect.” Coram, along with all Republican lawmakers at the state capitol, voted against the bill.

Brett Mertens, the coach of the football team, said that people who grew up in Montrose have long ties with the current mascot but expressed optimism for the future.

“I think people that grew up here are going to have fond memories of the Indians and it’s unfortunate that we won’t be able to continue that tradition, but we’ll make a new tradition and whatever ends up happening, we’ll be fine,” Mertens said.

District Spokesperson Matt Jenkins told the Daily Press earlier this month that the process to select a new mascot before the June 2022 deadline will involve all community stakeholders.

“I’ll be definitely curious to see what they come up with because it’s something so captivating for the whole school and what all it entails: that’s a big decision. It doesn’t seem that huge in some eyes I’m sure, but that can completely change the culture of high school,” said Lydia Stryker, who recently graduated but served as the student body president last year.

Field also said that the mascot means a lot to students, but noted that “times have changed.” He hoped that the collective search for a new mascot that represents current and future generations of students could be a force of good for the community.

Gabe Wigington, a recent MHS graduate who served as last year’s vice president of the student body, said that the school’s community will still be strong.

“No matter what mascot we have, it’s still going to be Montrose High School. It’s going to be the same people and the same community that’s been supporting the school and that includes the student body,” Wigington reflected.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

Anna Lynn Winfrey is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press.

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