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Students work to ban ‘Pioneers’ nickname, says it represents ‘genocide, oppression’

School institutes de facto ban on former mascot

Native American students at the University of Denver are protesting the school’s “Pioneers” nickname, saying it represents “genocide and oppression.”

And starting Jan. 1, the school launched a new policy that forbids the use of masks while on university property, effectively instituting a de facto ban on the institute’s informal Denver Boone mascot.

Angst and protests against the pioneers nickname and Boone mascot date back years, and Boone was retired in 2013 after campus officials deemed him too much of a “polarizing figure” to represent the school. This despite evidence showing students and alumni overwhelmingly wanted to keep Boone.

Although Boone was banned, the pioneers nickname has stuck around in an official capacity, especially within the sports department, prompting activists to continue their fight.

Last fall, the Native Student Alliance began a campaign seeking to change “pioneers” due to its allegedly offensive connotations, according to the school’s newspaper The Clarion.

The term is “associated with westward expansion, genocide, oppression, assimilation of Native American students,” Native Student Alliance co-president Raelene Woody told The Clarion.

“Pioneer does not represent the spirit of the students on this campus,” fellow co-president Ontario Duley added.

A photo campaign run by the group features a series of signs around campus with facts about the United States’ relationship with Native American tribes in Colorado, including one sign which read “The Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 ended with 150+ Cheyenne and Arapaho dead, mostly women, children, and elderly #sandcreekmassacre.”

“With the No More Pios Campaign, #NoMorePios, we’re looking to create this conversation, this discussion, to bring about change, because Pioneer does not represent the spirit of the students on this campus,” Duley said.

Repeated attempts by The College Fix to contact the Native Student Alliance were met with silence.

While campus officials have made no public statement about the pioneer nickname or the campaign to change it, they have taken steps to effectively ban the image of Boone from campus events, as some students and alumni have continued to honor him as the school’s mascot despite his banishment.

Under a new rule, campus officials quietly reversed an earlier decision allowing students to appear as the character.

On January 1 of this year, the university instituted a campus-wide ban on wearing masks “for the safety of all DU community members and guests,” according to the school’s website. The ban includes exceptions for “covering any part of the face for religious reasons; wearing protective equipment while engaged in a sport or responding to an emergency or safety situation; engaging in a theatrical production or similar University sanctioned event; or wearing a mask for protection from weather or medical reasons.”

The original version of the mask policy included potential additional exceptions for those who asked for them: “Individuals may request other exceptions to this policy from the Division of Campus Safety or the Office of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence.”

Shortly after, the policy description on the university’s website was changed to remove the sentence about requesting exceptions.

According to the independent University of Denver-centric blog LetsGoDU, the change occurred after the university was asked if the exceptions to the policy could be applied to individuals dressed as Denver Boone.

The College Fix reached out to the school’s media relations department for comment on the mask policy.

“The University of Denver is committed to the safety and protection of all community members and visitors on its campus,” an unnamed spokesman replied via email. “In recent years violent attacks have led to the harm and even death of innocent people from children to adults in movie theaters, on campuses and in other easily accessible venues.  The violence was committed in part by individuals who had concealed their faces and identities.”

Asked whether the policy would allow an exception for Boone, the spokesman told The Fix: “While many policies allow for review of exceptions, a policy to protect the safety of community members and guests shall have, appropriately, no exceptions.”

“The University retired Boone under Chancellor Ritchie’s leadership in 1998. Boone does not undergo any background checks or training by the University, nor is it covered under any insurance policy. People could reasonably expect that a character in a mask is approved and sanctioned by the University, when that is not the case.”

Regarding the now-excised exception within the original mask rule, the spokesman told The Fix: “The initial posting included an inaccurate addition suggesting special exemptions might be allowed. The text was corrected before the announcement about the change was sent to faculty/staff, and before the policy went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.”

The chancellor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Fix.

The University of Denver was founded in 1864, and first adopted the nickname Pioneers in 1925, according to a document outlining the school’s search for a new mascot in 2013.

After changing mascots several times, an artist from Walt Disney designed a character called “Boone,” based on the Disney character “Pioneer,” which the school adopted in 1968, according to a report in The Denver Post.

Boone remained the Pioneer’s mascot until 1998, when all sports at the university transitioned to NCAA Division I, and the athletic director changed the school’s mascot and logo to the Red Hawk. But the red-tailed hawk named “Ruckus” that replaced Boone never gained enough fans on campus and went extinct around 2007, prompting renewed calls and efforts to bring back Denver Boone.

The “Bring Back Boone” campaign was subsequently organized by students and alumni to raise money for a new Boone costume. After raising the requisite funds, the group obtained the assent of then-Chancellor Robert Coombe to wear the costume in an unofficial capacity in 2008.

But in 2013 — and despite pleas and campaigns by alumni, students and fans — University of Denver officials decided they would rather have no mascot at all than one that represents America’s frontier heritage, and officially axed Boone.

MORE: University Rejects Pioneer ‘Denver Boone’ Mascot As Too Offensive

MORE: Petition to change ‘Warrior’ mascot: ‘white people stole from, raped and murdered’

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