The Armijo Indians varsity and junior varsity football teams walloped their crosstown rival Fairfield Falcons last week. While proud of my alma mater’s victory, the thing I found interesting was that in politically correct 2013, Armijo’s mascot is still the Indians.
It’s interesting because the Oneida Indian Nation is waging a public relations battle against the Washington Redskins, asking them to change a name that they feel is offensive to Native Americans.
President Obama waded into the fray last week, saying if he were owner of the team he’d “think about changing” the name. Team owner Dan Snyder and team fans don’t want to change the name of the fourth most valuable sports franchise.
In addition to Redskins, many Native American groups want an end to mascot names such as Indians, Chiefs, Braves and other tribal references.
The National Congress of American Indians put out a poster the week comparing the Cleveland Indians’ stereotypical grinning Indian logo to two fictional ones: the San Francisco Chinamen featuring a grinning Asian wearing a conical hat and the New York Jews, with a shifty looking man with a large nose.
They make their point that such images are offensive. But I have a hard time seeing how names like Indians, Chiefs, Braves and Warriors offend. After all, Indian is in the National Congress of American Indians’ name!
Still over the years, many colleges and high schools have quietly changed their team names. For instance, all teams in the NCAA that used Indians have changed them.
Eleven years ago, the Alliance Against Racial Mascots protested the Armijo Indians name and then-principal Rae Lanpheir, part Native American himself, gave a vigorous defense of the Indian name. The name remains and I’m guessing most alumni wouldn’t want to change it. We’re not alone in Solano County. Vallejo High’s mascot is the Apaches while Napa High is also the Indians.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that some tribes support the use of Indian names. For instance, the Seminole Tribe endorsed Florida State University’s use of their name as a mascot.
When most people hear “Redskins” they think of a football team, not Native Americans. When 49ers fans think of their team, I’m sure men panning for gold don’t come to mind. While there’s no intent to offend, there’s no denying that Redskin is a slur. That slur along with stereotypical images and exploitation of Indian customs should be in a different category than team names like Indian, Chiefs, Braves or tribal names.
Native American mascot names were chosen to honor parts of American history. It’s the same reason the U.S. military has Apache and Black Hawk helicopters (the Black Hawk replaced the UH-1 Iroquois). It seems absurd that sports teams can’t pay tribute when many counties, cities, schools, parks, streets, lakes and rivers bear Native American names.
I can offer no defense for a term like Redskins. That’s up to Dan Snyder and the NFL to work out. But we live in a county named after an American Indian (Sem Yeto was christened “Francis Solano” after baptism.) Suisun was named after the Suisunes, a Patwin Indian tribe. So I don’t see how the Armijo Indians could cross the line. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.