At Boise High School, we are very proud of our reputation and traditions as an academic, civic-minded, and inclusive public high school. As the namesake high school for the capitol city of Idaho and with a rich history that predates statehood, Boise High and the Boise School District have often led efforts to strengthen the public education of Idaho’s children. Realizing that our example has influenced many educators throughout the state by thoughtful, fair, measured, and courageous leadership, we jumped at the chance to continue demonstrating such leadership when the opportunity presented itself two years ago. This opportunity came in the form of addressing the issue of our previous mascot: the Braves.
When laying the cornerstone of Boise High School’s current building in 1908, then mayor and future Governor Moses Alexander dedicated this school as “… a temple of liberty, where the children of the rich and the poor meet on the terms of equality in receiving the benefit of free public education.” We learn from yearbook accounts that until 1920, Boise High School commonly referred to its athletic teams as “the Red and White”—or simply as Boise High. By the early 1920’s, Boise High referred to its student athletes as Boise Braves. Since that time, there have been many iterations of that mascot’s image.
For several years we had been in the process of slowly moving away from Native American depictions and language that used the word “Braves” in representing Boise High’s mascot. In 2019, a group of students approached school administrators about the need to formalize these changes and officially retire the Braves. It is important to note that all of these students were representative of the diverse student body we proudly embrace in the Boise School District. This was a bit of an “aha” moment for our administrative team, as we realized that changing the mascot, while important to and for Native Americans, was also meaningful for all marginalized communities. It was clear that change needed to happen immediately, such that every individual would feel safe, welcome, and celebrated at our school.
In the spring of 2019, we began the formal process of educating ourselves, our stakeholders, and the student body and initiating change within our school and community. We had the opportunity to attend the Idaho Indian Education Summit, during which we learned a great deal about the history, culture, and origin of the first people of the Boise Valley. Through this experience, we were also able to connect with tribal leaders for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, who are a federally recognized sovereign nation and the ancestral relatives of Boise’s native people. We also learned that the tribes were preparing to send a letter to eight Idaho high schools, the Idaho State Department of Education, the governor, and the state legislature formally requesting that all schools with Native American mascots discontinue their use. Through our experience with Idaho Indian Education Summit, as well as our dialogue with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, our school and district came to the very clear conclusion that changing the mascot was absolutely the right thing to do.
When meeting with tribal representatives about how to go about the process, one thing was clear: If we did not approach this in the right manner, we would lose the opportunity for teaching and learning. We did not want this experience to divide our community and negate the opportunity to learn about and understand cultural appropriation and the importance of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes’ story.
We believed it to be critically important to educate our community that the Braves we believed we were honoring, as part of Boise’s past, did not feel honored. In fact, they felt disparaged, targeted, demoralized, and—in many ways—forgotten. While the Shoshone-Bannock peoples are an incredibly important part of the history of our city and state, they are also very much a part of our present. We were fortunate to forge a very good relationship with tribal members who even came to tour our school campus. They helped us understand how to preserve our own history as the Braves—not erase it.
With this clearer understanding, and with the support we needed to move forward, we took the resolution to the school board, which passed it unanimously after overwhelming testimony in favor of the change to “The Brave” which stands for:
Our logo and crest (see image) also took on different meaning. The color red represents strength. The columns represent wisdom; the shoe with wings represents our athletics and activities; the scales represent justice; the parchment represents academic achievement; the shield represents a defender; the color white represents temperance and purity; and our motto, “dedicati excellentiae” means courage.
In the days that followed, instead of Native American imagery and use of the word “Braves” filling the hallways, classrooms, and athletic fields of our historic school, a wider, more-inclusive ideal was naturally created with our new mascot.
“The Brave” reflects both the nature and intention of the response we both heard and felt from our students and community. We had successfully gathered as a cohesive group to promote acceptance of and active participation in the values inherent to our new name along with a more coherent purpose.
In addition, the Boise School District, with the intention of enhancing and building on this understanding, created a diverse committee of students, teachers, administrators, and community members to educate and foster a safe and inclusive school climate throughout the district. Through this experience, our students have expressed their appreciation for the change, as they feel valued, safe, and comfortable growing as individuals and as members of our community. At Boise High, we are committed to continuing to educate our students and our community and embracing every individual. A group of brave people, coming together, can indeed be called The Brave! We are proud of being The Brave of Boise High School.
Kelly Fossceco is the assistant principal of Boise High School in Boise, ID.
Sidebar: Building RanksTM Connections
Strategy 2: Diagnosing inequitable practices or structures. You can actively scrutinize your school practices for any instances in which practices have a negative influence on certain groups of students. The diagnostic process could include using data and conversations to examine formal school policies, deliberate levels or tracts for student learning, access to resources, and staff biases.
Equity is part of the Building Culture domain of Building Ranks.