Ed Committee Moves to Provide In-State Tuition to More American Indian Students and Ban Discriminatory Mascots

DENVER, CO– The House Education Committee today advanced two bills sponsored by Rep. Adrienne Benavidez to support American Indian students in Colorado. The first, which is also sponsored by Speaker Alec Garnett, would provide in-state tuition to American Indian students who are members of tribes with historical ties to Colorado, while the second, also sponsored by Rep. Barbara McLachlan, would ban American Indian mascots in Colorado public schools.

“We have a long way to go on our path toward doing right by the members of the American Indian tribes that have historically called Colorado home,” said Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County. “But by finally banning the use of discriminatory American Indian caricatures as mascots and giving more indigenous students the opportunity to go to college in Colorado, we’re taking two bold steps forward. Indigenous Coloradans have contributed immensely to our state throughout our history, and today we’re giving a little back to ensure they can continue to contribute in the future.”

“Colorado’s colleges and universities are wonderful spaces for learning and growth, and the diversity of their student bodies improve them even more so,” said Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver. “By ensuring that American Indian students whose tribes have ancestral ties to the land in our state can study here, we’re not only giving back to these tribes from whom so much has been taken, but we’re also enriching the makeup of our institutions of higher learning.”

SB21-029, sponsored by Speaker Garnett and Rep. Benavidez, would require that institutions of higher education adopt policies to charge in-state tuition to Native American students whose tribes have historical ties to Colorado. According to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs and History Colorado, 48 federally recognized American Indian tribes have historical ties to Colorado. The bill passed by a vote of 7-0.

“American Indian mascots create unwelcome and hostile environments for American Indian students, taking a toll on their mental health and academic success,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango. “As the proud representative of countless members of the Southern Ute tribe, I feel an immense responsibility to ensure indigenous students don’t feel caricatured, ridiculed or discriminated against by the mascots that should make them feel pride in their schools. I’m pleased that we’re one step closer to doing away with them.” 

SB21-116, sponsored by Reps. Benavidez and McLachlan, prohibits the use of American Indian mascots in any public school or institution of higher education and establishes a fine for schools that do not comply by June 1, 2022. If any funds are recouped from these fines, they would be deposited in the State Education Fund. The bill passed by a vote of 5-3.

This bill follows up on the work of the 2016 Governor’s Commission to Study American Indian Representations in Public Schools which was asked to “facilitate discussion around

the use of American Indian imagery and names used by institutions of public education and develop recommendations for the Governor and General Assembly regarding the use of such imagery and names.” The Commission’s number one recommendation was “the elimination of American Indian mascots, imagery, and names, particularly those that are clearly derogatory and offensive, and strongly recommends that communities review their depictions in facilitated public forums.” SB21-116 puts this recommendation into action.