Battle brewing over Native American mascot changes

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A fight over Native American school mascot names is heating up in Hillsborough County.

School board members Tuesday agreed to talk about whether the district should go ahead with name changes that were ordered last month by the superintendent.

"Having the Braves as a mascot is a tradition," said 8-year-old Brooker Elementary student Jude Ramos. "I was excited to go up there and speak and say why I disagreed with them changing the mascot."

His parents are leading the charge, telling school board members they've gathered over 600 signatures on their Save the Braves petition.

"For our community, the Brave has been a symbol that stands to honor the Native American community and their heritage," said mother Jessica Ramos.

While the superintendent insists mascots are his call, board members voted unanimously to talk about the changes at an upcoming meeting. 

They could vote to put it under their purview, scrap some or all of the changes, or leave them be.

"To be that involved and gather that many petition names in an extremely abbreviated time frame tells me there are probably some objections in that community," said school board member Melissa Snively.

In May, the district announced it had worked with a Native American parent advisory group who recommended the district scrap names like Chiefs, Tribe, and Indian Braves. 

The district said the names - which have roots in the 1950s and 60s - were unintentionally offensive because they easily reduced human beings to cartoons.

"They don't understand the legacy behind it," said Jaymie Perez, a member of the advisory group. "They don't understand the spirituality behind it. Yet, they are trying to own it as their own."

Students have already voted for new mascots like Golden Eagles, Bolts, Panthers and Rockets. The board may want a vote now too.

"We are a bit surprised that it took the turn that it did," said Perez.

The district says the initial estimate for the cost of the changes would be about $75,000.

There are 460 students out of a district of 200,000 who self-report as Native American.