Indian Mascot Debate Hits Home with Warriors

The Cleveland Indians mascot, ‘Chief Wahoo’, was denounced by protestors as racist and offensive. / Cartoon courtesy of Indian Country Today.

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Hoopa Elementary Teacher Tayshu Bommelyn was at a football game when she learned of plans to put a feathered headdress on the high school mascot to raise school spirit.

“I got wind that the ASB was going to bring tomahawks and headdresses to the games,” Bommelyn said, “and I tweeted about how the kids need to educate themselves.”

Hiedi Jarnaghan, the Associated Student Body (ASB) faculty advisor, said the students talked about the idea of a mascot wearing a feathered headdress similar to a Sioux ‘war bonnet’, and the word then spread.

Jared Ammon, the ASB president and a senior at Hoopa High School, said the headdress idea is about boosting school spirit.

“We’re trying to get a mascot to raise school and community spirit,” Ammon said. “A few years ago a student here just went and did it, and it really boosted school spirit at the game.”

Senior Buck Risling said, “I think it’s just a mascot; something for the kids to have fun.”

Others, like Junior Class President Harlee Grant, weren’t so sure of the idea.

“I know how touchy a subject this is,” Grant said. “Some people are against it because they think it’s disrespectful to other tribes.”

Bommelyn said, “I’m very familiar with the idea of an Indian mascot, because I’m from Del Norte. There was blatant racism and disgusting displays of the bad side of human nature.”

Bommelyn is proud of her Tolowa and Karuk heritage. As a student, she worked to get the Del Norte Warriors to stop using the head of a Plains Indian wearing a headdress as their mascot.

After years of effort from students and community members, they succeeded in having the Indian head logo dropped by Del Norte in 1998.

“One of the problems with Native American mascots is that it’s a marginalization of an entire race, religion, and culture of people,” Bommelyn said.

Some of the students said that they weren’t sure that the issues with racism connected with Native American mascots experienced in Del Norte really applied to Hoopa.

“The majority of the students here and the community that attend the games are Native American,” Ammon said. “But up there, they’re majority Caucasian.”

Robert Anderson, a teacher at Hoopa High School, is concerned. He’s not sure if students understand how they could be stepping into a controversy.

“It’s very common to have some sort of racial ugliness in some communities we play out on the coast,” Anderson said. “Do the teams you’re playing have the same level of respect you do?”

That was one of the concerns spoken about when Hoopa High School changed its own mascot from an Indian Headdress to an ‘H’ in 2003.

Students from Hoopa High School and the Na:tini~xwe’ Youth Council went to Sacramento to push for passage of Assembly Bill 858 sponsored by State Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg in 2002 and 2003.

Danielle Vigil-Masten was the Na:tini~xwe’ Youth Council advisor at the time.

“We had that place so packed with Indian kids when we went down to the Capitol building in Sacramento,” Vigil-Masten said. “Every entrance and even the sidewalk was filled with kids wearing turquoise shirts saying ‘I am not a mascot’.”

AB 858 would have banned the use of Native American-themed mascots in California by any schools that weren’t located on a reservation and which weren’t authorized by the local tribal authorities.

“We showed them how to educate congressional staff on issues,” Vigil-Masten said. “The students got school credits for political science while they were in Sacramento.”

The bill passed in the State Assembly, but failed in the State Senate in 2002.

“It passed in the Senate in the second year,” Vigil-Masten said, “but then it was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.”

A similar measure did pass in Oregon in May 2012, when the Board of Education voted to ban Native American mascots, nicknames, and logos. The eight Oregon high schools using Native American mascots were given five years to change them.

Nationally, protesters at the Cleveland Indians home opener in April 2012 denounced the team’s mascot, ‘Chief Wahoo’, as racist and offensive. There have been similar protests and even a lawsuit over the team name of the Washington Redskins.

Here in California, the old controversy surrounding the Del Norte Warriors resurfaced this summer.

The Del Norte Youth Football League (DNYFL) gave out new athletic bags decorated with a stylized head of a Plains Indian to their players.

The league isn’t funded by the school district, but they use district playing fields. The bags were taken back from the players and placed in storage.

Reactions to this issue have dominated several of the recent school board meetings and the issue is emotional for many people in the community, with heated discussions on blogs and online message boards.

Several people posted on Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, on the Facebook page ‘Bring back the head’ suggesting Del Norte drop the Warriors name and choose a different mascot.

Danny Forkner, a board member for the DNYFL, wrote, “I ask all the people (hundreds) that have posted, texted, called and talked about this issue to direct all that energy to finding a new mascot and name.”

Alison Eckart, a teacher and leadership advisor at Del Norte High School, said nobody has made a decision yet on whether or not to change the team’s name.

“No one has decided that,” Eckart said. “There are just lots of suggestions and opinions.”

Eckart said that they were looking for a new image to depict the characteristics of a warrior, like strength, dependability, and pride.

She said that a student suggested using a shield as a symbol for the Del Norte Warriors, in place of a human or animal mascot.

The Del Norte High School Student Senate will meet next Thursday, Sept. 27, to discuss the issue.

In Hoopa, many community members said they don’t like the idea of using symbols and objects that might be sacred to another tribe, as part of a sporting event.

William ‘Injun Bill’ Carpenter, the sergeant-at-arms for the Hoopa Valley Tribal Council, said, “I don’t think it should be like that. You don’t use regalia when it’s not appropriate.”
Jarnaghan said teachers talked to the students in her class about the issue.

“We don’t want to be disrespectful in any manner, and our kids are very respectful,” Jarnaghan said.

The student leaders at Hoopa High School are now discussing different ways of generating school spirit and energizing the crowd at games.

One suggestion was bringing back the warrior clap. Another was donkey basketball.

Senior Deja George said, “You have to have the ball in your hand when you’re on the donkey, and they’re so stubborn you have to really yank on the reigns. They have little rubber shoes so they don’t hurt the basketball court.”

Ammon said, “Ultimately, we just want to boost school spirit, but we don’t want to offend anyone.”

6 to “Indian Mascot Debate Hits Home with Warriors”

  1. Karuk_1 says:

    Why would we have an “Indian Headress” when that doesn’t represent the tribes from around here? That is racist on our part to plains Indians. And I cannot see us using something as sacred and special as a head roll at a game.

  2. nativeee says:

    I feel like I would be uncomfortable with another tribe, plains or another across the country, wearing our regalia or regalia pretending to look like ours, to boost school spirit at their schools. It just seems kinda random lol, and I could see how it would be offensive to some..

  3. Hupa says:

    first of all boosting the crowd and the kids does not take a war bonnet it takes pride …The Hoopa football homecoming was a poor poor show of pride it was awful…the ones in charge of making this homecoming great and memorable failed the kids ……the ship is only as good as the captian…take the blame adults…….get it together parent leaders…..

  4. Kayla says:

    I’m glad this discussion is happening. Its a good thing to want to instill pride in our schools, but we should try to understand where these mascots come from, their history, and their relationship to stereotypes — stereotypes that served to justify violence against all tribes at one time and still do harm today. We should also want to pass on a sense of responsibility to respect the regalia and cultures of other tribes, not just our own. Kudos to HHS and all involved.

    “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots” by Stephanie Fryberg

  5. reverend ralph john monteiro, o.s.a. says:

    for those who see no problem with using another tribe’s traditional regalia i suggest that they sit down with other students and faculty and see if they would use their own regalia as a sybmol for the warriors….
    this might mean a change in their name more than their logo

  6. jb says:

    Interesting comments/article input about not wanting to offend by wearing the regalia of another people. Especially considering a few years back during the landing of the boat dance the dancers crowded around and did a “funny dance” which mocked the plains (powwow) style dance that some indian people hold in high regard. Maybe the adults in the community should take more responsibility for their actions and practice what they preach. No teenager likes a hypocrite. Mr. Monteiro, the mascot did used to have a head roll on, and a woman’s cap. This was changed in the early 60’s/ late 50’s from the original war bonnet wearing indian they previously used. I believe the elementary school still uses them.

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