Lewis & Clark College Considers Changing Its Mascot From “Pioneers”

The symbol smacks of colonialism to some; others are “stunned” by the move.

Garner, the Newfoundland dog, at a Lewis & Clark football game. (Lewis & Clark Athletics)

Lewis & Clark College is deep in discussions whether to change the school’s mascot from Pioneers because some people feel the name is “inextricably linked with settler colonialism,” said college president Robin H. Holmes-Sullivan.

The process has so far included a 19-member steering committee, community meetings, and an online survey. The committee will present a recommendation to Holmes-Sullivan this spring; the final call is hers.

“The question of whether the mascot name ‘Pioneers’ represents the values of our community has come up more frequently in recent years,” Holmes-Sullivan wrote in a Sept. 29 letter.

While the mascot smacks of colonialism to some in the Lewis & Clark community, others have fond memories, or associate pioneers with discovery and innovation, she wrote.

Still others might be confused and think the mascot is actually a Newfoundland dog named Garner, who made appearances at sporting events until moving away in 2022. The dog is actually the school’s logo, in tribute to a Newfoundland named Seaman who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their expedition, according to the school.

With the Jan. 17 release of the survey, news of the reconsideration has spread across the alumni network, where it has met with a mixed response.

Alumna Sheila Gallagher played soccer and club lacrosse at Lewis & Clark in the 1980s and remembers affectionately referring to her teams as the “Pios.” She feels “stunned” and “offended” by the idea of ditching the Pioneer mascot.

“What’s the next step?” Gallagher says. “If they are changing the mascot from Pioneers, you could argue the name Lewis & Clark is worse.”

(The school says there are no plans to change the name of the college.)

Despite identifying as a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal,” she has struggled to find ways “Pioneer” is offensive. Rather, Gallagher finds inspiration in the mascot: “I think the pioneer represents a sense of independence and strength and ‘we can do this.’”

According to Lewis & Clark spokeswoman Lois Leveen, the Southwest Portland college is taking a page from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. “Their thoughtful process provides a model for how to engage around issues like this,” Leveen says.

In 2016, Whitman changed its mascot from the Missionaries to the Blues, after Whitman’s local mountain range.

“We are exploring this question [of a mascot change] as a thoughtful community that strives to be respectful of the many cultures and experiences of those we welcome to our campus as students, faculty, staff and visitors,” Leveen says.

Gallagher pointed out another college’s journey: After a multiyear battle, the University of Denver ultimately upheld its “Pioneer” mascot.

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