The Lamar High School mascot, The Savage Chief, is displayed in front of the school’s auditorium July 15, 2021. Senate Bill 116 prohibits the use of American Indian symbols and names by Colorado public schools beginning in June 2022. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

A state board on Tuesday removed Lamar High School from a Colorado list of schools with banned mascots, meaning it narrowly avoided potential fines up to $25,000 per month that could have started this month.

The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs board voted 8-2 at a special meeting to take Lamar off the list, contingent on the district ensuring school teams don’t use the city’s community center until the old Savages logos are removed or covered. Board members Alston Turtle, representing the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Melvin Baker, chairman of the Southern Ute Tribe, opposed the motion. The tribes are in southwestern Colorado.

Neither man explained his vote during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, and neither could be reached Wednesday for comment.

The CCIA board also updated its guidelines for compliance with the state law banning the use of most American Indian mascots, including giving schools newly added to the noncompliant list a year to make changes. It also decided it could opt for special meetings to vote on whether schools are complying with the law; previously, votes were taken only at quarterly meetings.

The down-to-the-wire decision for Lamar came after its school board on May 19 approved changing the school nickname from Lamar Savages to Lamar Thunder with a logo featuring a buffalo. Earlier that same day, the CCIA board rejected a plea from the district to retain the Savages nickname without using Native American imagery. It also rejected a proposal to change the name to Savage Thunder.

The school had already removed all Native American imagery related to the Savages mascot, Superintendent Chad Krug said.

“Big picture, I think everyone is ready for this to be over with,” he said Wednesday. “Can we just get on with school business?

“We are excited to move forward with our new mascot.”

The city-owned community center posed a dilemma for the school district, whose students use the facilities for many activities. It is adjacent to the high school.

Krug told the CCIA board Tuesday that he’s been in constant contact with the city, and it is planning to put money in next year’s budget to permanently remove three mascot images from the center. That work would likely happen next summer, he said after Baker pressed him for a timeline.

Krug reiterated that the building does not belong to the school district, but it likely will spend about $15,000 for temporary decals that can cover the objectionable images, he said. Students will not use the facility unless the images are covered, he told the CCIA board.

Lamar was the last of an initial group of about two dozen schools to come into compliance with Senate Bill 116, which banned Native American mascots at most public schools.

On May 19, though, the CCIA board added 10 schools, all with Thunderbird mascots. Under the newly adopted compliance guidance, the schools will have one year to change their mascots.

Sue McMillin is a longtime Colorado editor and reporter currently based in Cañon City.