Chieftains are no more at Columbia River High School


School will form a committee to find a new mascot and logo

The Columbia River Chieftains are no more.

The new name for Columbia River High School’s mascot is yet to be determined, but the members of the Board of Directors for Vancouver Public Schools voted Tuesday night to retire the Chieftains brand that has been part of the school since it opened in 1962.

It is the end of an era at Columbia River High School. The Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors voted to retire the name Chieftains. Photo by Mike Schultz
It is the end of an era at Columbia River High School. The Vancouver Public Schools Board of Directors voted to retire the name Chieftains. Photo by Mike Schultz

The school board took up the issue in July, met with local tribal leaders, read emails, and took calls from several interested parties. The board members voted unanimously Tuesday a few minutes after hearing public comment on the issue.  

“As a River parent … I recognize and feel the deep sense of pride that is prevalent at River. A River experience is truly an amazing one. This will not change because a mascot and the nickname change. The pride at River goes much deeper than that,” said Kathy Decker, a school board member.

Kyle Sproul, a board member, thanked everyone for their comments and appreciated the passion on both sides of the issue.

“Honoring the native people and their opinions is really important,” Sproul said.

“To me, the research is clear … on the negative impact that Native American mascots have on students,” added board member Tracie Barrows.

Board member Camera Banfield also appreciated those in support of keeping the name.

“I know their hearts. I know these are really good people. It doesn’t make them racists that they want this. By making this change, we are not saying, ‘You are a bad person,’” Banfield said. “We’re saying there is growth here. I believe you have the ability to grow with us, with our community. 

“I know your hearts, but we need to do the right thing for those in marginalized communities.”

Imagery and logos in the gym, and all over Columbia River High School, will soon change after the school board voted to retire the name Chieftains. Photo by Mike Schultz
Imagery and logos in the gym, and all over Columbia River High School, will soon change after the school board voted to retire the name Chieftains. Photo by Mike Schultz

Wendy Smith, a board member and a Columbia River graduate, also noted the passion associated with Chieftain pride. Still, she gave her reasons why she believed it was time for a change.

“The purpose of a mascot is to promote school spirit and community, to foster a feeling of belonging and fellowship. And I fear the Chieftain mascot is failing in that role,” Smith said. “If the result of such a mascot is that some students, any students, feel estranged or alienated from their school or community, then it is not the right mascot for that school. We need to find a more inclusive replacement.

“Retiring of the mascot should not be seen as an indictment against the students of Columbia River past or present,” Smith added. “Rather, it should be seen as a step forward.”

According to Vancouver Public Schools policy, the next step will be to find a new name for the high school’s mascot. That will begin at the school level, with the principal organizing a committee of students, staff, parents, alumni, community members, and administrators. 

The committee will come up with no less than three and no more than five names for the principal to give to the superintendent, who will then present to the board for its approval. 

Several former students, teachers, and community members spoke at Tuesday’s board meeting via Zoom. It was a mix of those in favor of retiring the name and those who wanted to maintain the name.

The name Chieftain, Marlon Gorden said, means a leader of a tribe or a group. He said it is not a derogatory term.

“Chieftain pride is real and runs deep. It doesn’t go away when you graduate,” said Gorden, who graduated in 1979. “It becomes your identity for life. Retiring the Chieftains nickname would be the most hurtful and disrespectful thing you could do to me and my fellow alumni of 58 years.”

Anastacia McAllister, a Native American, is a Columbia River graduate, as well.

“The mascot does not honor me or my family. The mascot does not honor my community or the native presence in the lower Columbia River,” McAllister said. 

“We are not seeking to revise history or obliterate it,” she continued. “The Chieftain mascot is our history, but that does not mean it needs to be our future.”

In the end, the board agreed for a new future at Columbia River High School. 

The resolution also included the retiring of the Chieftains name from Minnehaha Elementary School.

The resolution also called for the change to take effect immediately.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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