FILE - New Hampshire State Capitol (House of Representatives)

The New Hampshire House of Representatives at the Capitol in Concord, New Hampshire.  

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire lawmakers are weighing a proposal to outlaw the use of Native American mascots in public schools, including colleges and universities.

Sponsors of House Bill 1261 say the mascots are "derogatory" and teach people "that it is acceptable to participate in culturally abusive and prejudicial behaviors," according to introductory language in the legislation. 

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Gerri Cannon, D-Strafford, told the Education Committee on Tuesday that studies have shown mascots have a negative impact on Native Americans and proliferate negative stereotypes. She noted that national groups such as the American Psychological Association have called for doing away with Native American mascots. 

"We know that Native American youth suffer the highest rates of suicide among young people," Cannon told the panel. 

Some Native American groups say Indian mascots promote negative stereotypes and gloss over brutal suppression of the region’s indigenous people by colonial governments.

The proposal has support from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which testified in support of the measure during Tuesday's hearing. 

"We should be focused on ensuring that New Hampshire schools foster a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students," Frank Knaack, the ACLU of NH's policy director, told the panel. "Having Native American mascots undermines that core principle that we should all be striving for." 

Nobody spoke in opposition to the proposal during Tuesday's public hearing, but one Republican committee member questioned whether the bill would be a state mandate on local governments. 

It's not clear how much the proposed changes would cost school districts that currently use the Native American mascots to remove them, which has been an issue in other states that have considered bans. There is no fiscal note attached to the bill. 

While the state Board of Education approved a resolution 20 years ago supporting the elimination of Native American mascots, backers of the proposal say some New Hampshire schools are still using them for sports teams and other purposes.

Some school districts have asked the public to decide whether to remove Native American names from football teams and high school gymnasiums. A few have made changes.

In 2020, the state Commission on Native American Affairs sent a letter to Gov. Chris Sununu, urging him to ban Native mascots.

Sununu didn't respond to the panel's request.