From the Archive: No More Indian Mascots

Another thing about Warm Springs Elementary School is that they used to be “The Warriors” and their mascot was a friendly looking gender-bending Indian. Now they’re the Wolves. Mission San Jose is still the Warriors, but I guess they got rid of  their old mascot.

Here’s why from the Mercury News or March 22, 1995:

For nearly three decades, Mission San Jose High School students have proudly dubbed themselves the Warriors. There are two large carvings of American Indians in the administration building, large color murals of Geronimo and a Plains Indian chief in the gymnasium, and the school newspaper bears the name “The Smoke Signal.”

 If a group of Indian parents has its way, however, all such symbols would be banned by the end of the school year.

 The 12 members of the Native American Parent Committee, who advise the district on its American Indian program, want school board members to adopt a districtwide policy outlawing Indian mascots. The board will take up the matter tonight.

 Calling such mascots degrading, offensive and dehumanizing, committee members say no one has considered the impact on the district’s 350 Indian children.

They need to walk in our moccasins for a few miles and feel what it’s like, ” said committee Chairman Joe Barosso, who is part Cherokee, part Seminole and part Creek Indian. “We’re trying to teach our kids to be proud of who they are, ” he said. “To try to portray Indian people as all wearing war bonnets and jumping up and down — it’s the John Wayne image we’re trying to get away from.

 “We want positive images for our children.”

 A ban on such mascots would affect three schools — Warm Springs Elementary, Walters Junior High and Mission San Jose.

Officials at Warm Springs, however, are already moving to get rid of their mascot because of complaints from parents. Walters officials removed a symbol that had been displayed in the multi-purpose room and are considering whether to select a different mascot.

Fremont is broaching a topic that has generated debate throughout the country for at least 20 years.

Stanford University did away with its Indian mascot in the 1970s after Indian students labeled it demeaning and stereotypical. “Chief Lightfoot, ” a Yurok on horseback who had paraded with the Stanford band at games and put hexes on rival teams, was banned from the field and replaced with a prancing tree.

The controversy continues, however. A group of alumni recently began lobbying to resurrect the Indian mascot. And in November, Indian students dumped a stack of Stanford Reviews on the university president’s doorstep to protest the conservative newspaper’s use of a tomahawk-wielding Indian caricature.

Mission San Jose administrators and teachers are exploring whether a different mascot should be selected, said Principal Marcia Mathog. But she noted that not everyone agrees that the symbols used at the school are degrading. Some see them as honoring the Indian community, she said.

“We have three large, beautiful carvings that have been given to the school over the years as gifts, ” Mathog said. “Our efforts have always been for it to be the most dignified, the most respectful. These are not cartoons.”

“But we don’t want to offend anyone, ” she added. “All those things will be addressed with the whole student body.”

Andrew Galvan, an Ohlone Indian and Mission San Jose area resident, said people should consider the views of those who selected the mascot before deciding whether it should be banned.

“What was the original intention of taking the name ‘Warriors’ — to honor Indians or to make fun of them?” Galvan asked. “If it was that we want to honor the spirit of the Indian people who once lived in this area and who continue to live in this area, then that’s a good thing. But it should be taken away if it was meant to mock the Indians.”

If people fail to ask such questions, Galvan added, “It’s going to get to the point where you can’t do anything to acknowledge Indians.”

The action by the Native American Parent Committee was sparked by the logo used at Warm Springs Elementary School, a drawing of a chubby-cheeked Indian child with a headband and little feather stuck in the back of his headband.

Such images are not only demeaning, they are inaccurate, argues Barosso, who doesn’t buy the argument that mascots honor Indians. “Although the intent may have been sincere, the impact is harmful to all children, especially to Native Americans, ” the committee wrote in its letter to the board.

Warm Springs Principal Ethel Murphy said school officials are hoping to turn the issue into a learning experience. Teachers began discussing stereotypes in their classrooms this month, and an Indian speaker came to the school. Students will help pick the new mascot.

“I think we’ve had some real good discussion at the school, ” Murphy said. “We’re all in agreement that in this day and age, we’re more sensitive than we used to be. As long as people are uncomfortable with us using it as a symbol, we’re going to change it.”

Walters Junior High School officials removed an Indian mascot from their multipurpose room at the beginning of the school year after parents complained. Students have been asked to compile a list of other possible mascots, but no decisions have been reached, said Principal Marcella Smith.

Under the new policy the school board will consider tonight, schools would be banned from using any mascot that is “degrading.” The policy does not define degrading and would not automatically ban the symbols at Mission San Jose High School, said Superintendent Sharon Jones. It would be up to each school to define what qualifies as degrading after consulting with parents and students, she said.

“I would be surprised if the board comes up with a hard-and-fast ruling, ” said board President Cris Raimundo. “We would like to hear what the public has to say about this. I think we need to raise our sensitivity.”

Matt Artz

One Comment

  1. I went to High School in Sunnyvale where we were the Fremont High School Indians. They had to change out that name several years ago. Still remember the theme song. “On Fremont on… We are the Indians brave and strong…” Won’t go thru the whole song or I will be singing it all night but we were very PROUD to have the Indian as our mascot. VERY proud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *