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California may force schools to drop Indian mascots

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Posted: Wednesday, May 15, 2002 10:00 pm

Galt High School, which survived a stormy effort by residents to get rid of the school's Warrior mascot more than four years ago, may have to change its mascot after all.

A bill to outlaw Indian-related mascot names was approved Wednesday in its last committee test before going to a vote in the Assembly.

The bill would force name changes at elementary, middle and high schools as well as community colleges and the University of California and California State University systems.

Outlawed would be Redskins, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, Apaches and Comanches, as well as any other American Indian tribal name.

A state commission would then add to the banned list any other names it decides are "derogatory or discriminatory against any race, ethnicity, nationality or tribal group," and schools would be forced to comply.

In Sacramento, Cosumnes River College changed its mascot name from the Chiefs to the Hawks.

The school's athletic department was instrumental in getting the change made in 2000. CRC received numerous complaints since it opened in 1970, said Travis Parker, the school's athletic director. After a failed attempt in 1998, the mascot change was approved two years later.

In Galt, the high school's mascot, known affectionately as Willie the Warrior, came under fire in 1997, when Chamise Pink, an American Indian student at Galt High, filed a complaint with the school district, saying the use of Warriors and other Indian names is offensive.

Pink's complaint led to several board meetings of the Galt Joint Union High School District that packed the Galt High library and stirred emotional debate for and against using the Warrior mascot.

Later that year, the school board retained the Warrior mascot, but adopted a new drawing that depicted Willie as being more dignified than the old mascot.

Pink attended Galt High for only one year, moving to Colorado in the fall of 1997.

Schools across the country have been reviewing mascot names amid increasing sensitivity about racial stereotypes.

Such decisions are usually made by individual schools or school boards. Supporters of the bill say it's a question better resolved at the state level.

"When it's decided locally, it can be really divisive, it can be incredibly time consuming," said Lori Nelson of the Alliance Against Racial Mascots, a coalition of civil rights groups in California. "The people who are arguing for the change are usually the minority and what happens to a lot of native kids, they are targeted by the school. They are harassed and pulled out of class."

One Galt resident will be pleased if the bill is passed.

Darlene Brown, who has five tribes in her bloodlines, said it's about time something like this happened.

"We are a people, not a mascot," Brown said.

Brown said it's "a slap in the face" that Galt High students still do dances that mimic Indian activity.

"They make fun of us as Indian people," she said. "Dancing is who we are; it's how we pray."

Critics call it political correctness gone too far. They say the names are meant to honor Indians, and even some American Indians express pride in mascots that depict their heritage.

"I'm finding that people are not feeling offended by it," said Jennifer George, a Hoopa tribe member and principal of Hoopa Elementary School, a school about 100 miles from the Oregon border. The Hoopa Braves would be spared under the bill, which exempts schools on reservations.

"There's a really strong sense of pride in being American Indian. They know who they are, but the difference is we don't run around doing the tomahawk chop," George said, referring to Atlanta Braves fans.

The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, told the Assembly Appropriations Committee before Wednesday's vote that individual schools shouldn't decide civil rights questions.

"If Brown vs. the Board of Education had been taken up by the local districts, it would have failed," she said.

But Assemblyman Richard "Dick" Dickerson, R-Redding, said the issue should be resolved locally. After all, he said, some American Indians in his district would like to keep their mascots.

"What we have here is a certain group of people, some Native Americans, who are offended by activities," he said. "If we begin to write pieces of legislation, try to make sure no group of people is offended by the actions of another group, my question is where would it stop?"

As the bill now stands, about 100 California schools would be forced to change names, including 26 Braves, 11 Chiefs, 55 Indians and four Redskins. California also has 85 Warriors, which would be barred if a school combines the name with an identifiably Indian mascot.

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