Newseum First Amendment Newsroom Diversity
First Amendment Center
First Amendment Text
Research Packages
First Amendment Publications

Today's News
Related links
Contact Us

spacer graphic

California may outlaw American Indian mascots

By The Associated Press


Printer-friendly page

Editor's note: On May 28, the California Assembly voted 35-29 to reject AB 2115, which would have forced public schools to outlaw American Indian team names and mascots.

FRESNO, Calif. — California may become first state to force nearly all public schools to drop American Indian team names and mascots such as Redskins, Chiefs and Apaches.

Indians have taken their fight to the Legislature, where a bill to outlaw such names was approved May 15 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.

Under the legislation, 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.

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

In Eaton, Colo., organizers of a rally to protest Eaton High School's Fightin' Reds mascot vow to return on commencement day each year until the name is changed.

About 300 people participated in a mile-long peaceful march and rally May 19, 90 minutes before the graduation ceremony.

The school drew national and statewide attention after an intramural basketball team at the University of Northern Colorado took the "Fightin' Whites" name in a sign of protest. The Fightin' Whites' parent group, Coloradans Against Ethnic Stereotyping in Colorado Schools, organized the rally.

They are asking officials at Eaton and 26 other Colorado high schools to change mascots that include the Lamar Savages, La Veta Redskins and the Yuma Indians.

Decisions about whether to drop American Indian mascot names are usually made by individual schools or school boards, but supporters of California's bill say it is 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."

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, about 100 miles from the Oregon line. The Hoopa Braves would be spared under the bill, which exempts schools on reservations.

Assemblyman Richard Dickerson, a Republican from Redding, said the issue should be resolved locally. After all, he said, some American Indians in his district would like to keep their mascots.

"If we begin to write pieces of legislation (to) try to make sure no group of people is offended by the actions of another group, my question is where would it stop?" he said.

As the bill, A.B. 2115, now stands, about 100 California schools would be forced to change names, including 26 Braves, 11 Chiefs, 55 Indians and 4 Redskins. California also has 85 Warriors, which would be barred if a school combines the name with an identifiably Indian mascot.

A $1 million state fund would help schools pay for changes.

Over the past 30 years, more than half of nation's 3,000 schools with Indian mascots or nicknames have changed them, according to the Morning Star Institute, a nonprofit American Indian civil rights organization. Stanford University replaced its "Indian" with the "Cardinal" in 1972.

Los Angeles schools banned Indian mascots in 1997, and Dallas schools followed suit.

David Yeagley, a Comanche and adjunct professor at the University of Oklahoma, said American Indians can use mascots to educate non-Indians about their culture.

"There are 11 states with Indian names, and endless streets, rivers, towns and counties that have Indian names. Are they going to remove that, too?" he said. "Where does this ethnic cleansing end?"

LaVerne Roberts, a Paiute Indian who lives in San Jose, said she used to be proud when she heard "braves" and "Indians" shouted at high school games until another school's cheerleaders chanted, "Better Dead than Red."

"That's what turned my thinking around," she said. "People don't realize how it hurts us. They don't look at us as people. They look at us as savages and that makes us less human."


Illinois college rescinds order banning mascot critics from talking to athletes
ACLU has not yet determined if university’s new stance resolves suit filed by campus members opposed to school’s Chief Illiniwek.  06.07.01

Mascot opponents awarded damages in suit against Illinois college
Federal judge had previously ruled University of Illinois violated First Amendment by barring campus critics from contacting athletic recruits about Chief Illiniwek controversy.  07.24.02

New York investigates use of Native American mascots
Orange County activist's objection to school district's 'Red Raider' mascot prompts study.  07.16.98

Nebraska newspaper will no longer call D.C. football team 'Redskins'
"We've made this decision out of respect for Native people," says Lincoln Journal Star editor  01.28.03

Foes fight Cleveland Indians' team logo outside stadium, in court
Anti-Chief Wahoo protesters file suit against city, police, claiming last year's arrests violated their right to free speech.  04.13.99