California Today: The Debate over Indian Mascots and Imagery
The New York Times Mike McPhate SEPT. 22, 2016 (cartoons added by me)
The sign in front of Winters High School, which is planning to phase out Native American imagery. Credit Mike McPhate
Insults are just part of life in California, according to many Native Americans in the state.
Last year, for example, there was the Senate candidate caught on video making a “whooping” gesture in reference to an American Indian, and then there was the pope’s canonization of the Rev. Junípero Serra, viewed by prominent Native Americans as a far from saintly figure.
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Then there are the mascots.
Pressure to eliminate Native American-themed nicknames and mascots from California’s schools has been around since at least the 1960s. Scores of schools have gotten rid of them, and last year the state banned the use of “Redskins” as a team name or mascot.
Yet, according to a survey out of the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center at Cal State San Marcos, more than 140 of the state’s public K-12 schools were still using such mascots as of 2015, a great many accompanied by imagery of Indians in feathered headdress.
They have names like the Durfee School Warriors, the Washington Elementary Little Aztecs, the Ripon High Indians and the Cherrylee School Chiefs.
Native American leaders say such mascots perpetuate ethnic stereotyping that goes back centuries.
“My big issue is, if you dehumanize us, then you’re never going to make policies for us,” said Joely Proudfit, who leads the Cal State center. “You’re never going to give us a seat at the table. You’re never going to see us as human beings.”
Dr. Proudfit said she hoped the survey, published as a map showing the mascots peppered across California, would draw attention to how widespread the practice remains.
School leaders who have refused to budge on the mascot issue talk about deeply felt pride, sporting legacies that date back decades, and support from individual Native Americans who see them as a tribute. Racism, they say, plays no part in it.
At Chowchilla High School, outside Merced, one of four schools across the state affected by the Redskins ban, officials said their intentions in using the mascot were misunderstood.
“Here, the Chowchilla Redskins emboldens the spirit of strength, honor and respect,” said Marty Piepenbrok, a community relations spokesman. “There is nothing disparaging about it whatsoever.”
At the high school’s graduation ceremony in June, the biggest cheer rose up at the mention of “Redskins,” The Fresno Bee reported.
The school has until January to drop the mascot.
Even without a broader ban, however, many schools have responded voluntarily to the concerns of Indian tribes by swapping out their Native American mascots. Others have tried to sidestep the issue by dropping just the imagery associated with the names.
For Winters High School, home of the Warriors, that has meant a low-key phasing out of the school symbol depicting an Indian man in headdress.
The name will stay, said Todd Cutler, the superintendent of the district outside Sacramento. But when it comes time to replace the gym floor and the sign in front of the school, the Indian imagery that adorns them will become, simply, “W.”
“It’s really a delicate, careful road we are moving down,” Dr. Cutler said.