Having broached the subject of Native American mascots in a column last month, I had no idea I’d be revisiting it so soon. Last month, in a unanimous decision, the Vallejo school board voted to remove “Apaches” as Vallejo High’s mascot at the end of the school year in June 2014.
Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes formally appealed for the change last month and was backed by the American Indian Movement (West), and Kathi Hill of the Vallejo NAACP, among others.
(It is somewhat ironic that the NAACP, with the anachronistic and offensive “colored people,” in its name, is involved in the mascot issue. When are they going to change that?)
Vallejo High has borne the Apache name for more than 100 years and many students supported keeping the mascot. But the SSP&RIT released a statement saying, “The use of Native Americans as symbols and mascots is incongruous with promoting respect for inclusiveness and diversity. Native mascots perpetuate the myth that Native America is purely historical and devoid of any contemporary relevance.”
The battle over Native American mascots is heating up. In Wisconsin, a bill making it more difficult to challenge mascot names sits on the governor’s desk. Last month, the Washington, D.C., council passed a resolution urging the Washington Redskins to change their name. Also, representatives from the NFL met with representatives of the Oneida Indian Nation over the Washington Redskins name. (What’s a mystery is how no one is upset that the team is called “Washington” when they practice in Virginia and play in Maryland.)
While it’s easy for most people to see why demeaning caricatures and names like Redskins, Redmen or Savages would be offensive, tribal names and just the generic term “Indians” (as both Armijo and Napa High employ as mascots) are more difficult to understand. How would one pay tribute to a tribe and not use the name? Are counties, cities, mountains, rivers, lakes and parks OK to bear Indian names, but just not school mascots?
In some ways we may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater by whitewashing Native American names from our schools.
What if this push to rid schools and sports of Native American mascots succeeds nationally? Suppose the Washington Redskins become the Washington Warriors and change their mascot to an American soldier.
Imagine the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians following suit. More and more college teams are dropping their Native American mascot names and imagery. Suppose Armijo and Napa High are next for local Native American activists and change their names as well.
What exactly do we gain by erasing all of these Native American names? Wouldn’t a better solution be to add more Native American history to school curricula? Wouldn’t it have benefited students of Vallejo High to educate them about Apachean tribes rather than to just drop the name altogether? How else do you combat ignorance but with education?
It’ll be sad if one day the only safe, politically correct reference to Indians in our culture will be Indian casinos. Peace.
Kelvin Wade is the author of “Morsels” Vols. I and II and lives in Fairfield. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.