A Kansas commission says one step toward racial equity is to stop using Native Americans as mascots

SM North Bison

Shawnee Mission North High School earlier this year changed its mascot from the Indians to the Bison following the adoption of a new district policy prohibiting the use of racially stereotypical or offensive mascots. Changing such mascots was a recent recommendation from the statewide Commission on Racial Equity. File photo.

By Blaise Mesa

A state commission asked by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to study the state’s racial equity called for ending the use of Native Americans as team mascots, getting vaccines to underserved populations and expanding Medicaid. It also called for a higher minimum wage.

The Commission on Racial Equity and Justice released its recommendations on Tuesday on child care, broadband access, racial equity and other factors related to the social determinants of health.

“My administration remains committed to working together to address inequities and improve the health and well-being of every Kansas community,” Kelly said in a statement.

The commission filed two reports previously, including recommended changes to policing last year.

Increase minimum wage

The report didn’t give a specific wage it’d like to see, but it said Kansas hasn’t adjusted its wage since 2009. Kansas and dozens of other states have kept their minimum wage in line with the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour. The minimum wage in about half the states runs $10 an hour or more.

Kansans working 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year will earn $14,500 per year, and the commission said increasing the wage will address labor shortages.

Remove Native American mascots

The commission called for the end to Native American mascots, imagery and names in schools and sports teams.

It further called for schools to review anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies to make them more culturally diverse, and have institutions collaborate with the Kansas Office of Native American Affairs and the Kansas Association for Native American Education to educate people on Native American representation.

Schools in Wichita and Shawnee Mission have already voted to remove such imagery from their facilities. The cost of removing Native American imaging can be expensive.

Wichita schools learned in May new uniforms, painting over gym floors and changing band equipment could cost over $400,000.

Rethink the role of police in schools

The commission previously recommended schools explore alternatives to school resources officers, such as counselors. Those police school resources officers spend time in schools while class is in session.

The commission now recommends that those officers not “enforce rules or be used to discipline students.”

“If SROs are utilized in a school or school district, their role should be mentorship of students and enforcement of laws,” the report says.

Increase vaccine access

The commission said existing programs that allow for in-home calls should be used to provide vaccines to homebound individuals. Expanding vaccine access to communities of color and other impacted communities should also be the state’s priority, the report read.

Black and Native American Kansans are vaccinated at lower rates than white Kansans, the report says. Meanwhile, local health officials warn of a wave of COVID-19 cases now that the omicron variant has been confirmed in Kansas.

“We still have a lot of unvaccinated folks. We set ourselves up for danger,” University of Kansas Health System chief medical officer Steven Stites said earlier this month. “That danger is real. … It’s at our doorstep. … We are in trouble.”

Create a new tax bracket

There are three tax brackets for state income taxes. Families who make over $60,000 per year that file jointly all pay the same rate. The commission called for a fourth tax bracket for joint-filing families that make over $100,000 a year.

The commissions said creating the new tax bracket will evenly divide the state’s tax burden.

Increase access to contraceptives

The commission said access to birth control should be expanded so it is easily accessible for people on private health insurance plans, health insurance provided through employers and on plans that are exempted from a contraceptive coverage requirement.

Blaise Mesa reports on criminal justice and social services for the Kansas News Service in Topeka. You can follow him on Twitter @Blaise_Mesa or email him at blaise@kcur.org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.