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Irvine School Expels Mascot

Education: Woodbridge High acts after American Indians complain.

May 18, 2001|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of discussion, Woodbridge High School is dropping its American Indian mascot, a step that falls short of pleasing the area's American Indians.

Faculty, students and parents have been debating the mascot after American Indians complained seven months ago that the school's team logos and mascot are degrading.

The Irvine school's teams are called the Warriors, depicted as an American Indian in a mural on an exterior wall at the campus and on the gym floor.

In addition, a costumed student wearing an oversized American Indian headdress would cavort on the field at games as the spirit mascot.

The school has decided to keep the team name and the artwork, principal Greg Cops said, but to eliminate what he called the cartoonish live mascot at the games.

"We're going to go out of our way to make sure any future representations are in the best of taste and hopefully don't offend people," Cops said.

But that's not nearly enough to satisfy Eugene Herrod, a board member of the Fountain Valley-based Southern California Indian Center.

"If you have a knife in someone's back and then only pull it out halfway, what good does that do?" said Herrod, who wants to see the removal of all American Indian imagery related to sports and mascots from schools.

The removal of Woodbridge's mascot is one of several actions Cops said the school will take to be more sensitive to American Indian concerns.

A committee of representatives from the Associated Student Body, faculty, administrative staff, the Parent Teacher Student Assn. and booster groups recently agreed to:

* Have the ASB cabinet develop guidelines for future appropriate representations of the school's American Indian symbol. Cartoon depictions would, for example, be considered inappropriate, Cops said.

* Develop a video presentation to explain the school's symbol and traditions to incoming students and families.

* Ask the social science department to develop a unit, to begin in the fall of 2002, on the history and traditions of American Indians.

Herrod is unimpressed.

Of Woodbridge's planned unit on American Indians, Herrod asked, "Who's going to teach it?" As for the guidelines for representations of Native Americans, he said, "Based on whose values? Certainly not ours. They haven't met with anyone from our community. How can a school or community say they honor a group of people and refuse to meet with them?"

Although Woodbridge officials didn't meet directly with American Indians, Cops said they received information both in letters and phone calls from American Indian organizations and individuals, which was shared with committee members.

"We felt the decision [on what to do] was the Woodbridge High School community's decision," he said.

Cops said the committee decided to keep the Warriors name because members don't consider it offensive. "It was clear 'warrior' can be associated with a lot of things," he said.

And though there was never any malicious intent behind using a American Indian mascot, he said, the committee felt it was a caricature that could be interpreted as making fun.

Cops said it will be left up to the ASB cabinet to decide what the school's new spirit mascot will be.

The discussion of the school's American Indian imagery began after a school board meeting in October. Daniel Chapin, saying he represented the American Indian Movement, told the board that Woodbridge's Warrior depictions were offensive.

But three weeks after Chapin spoke to the school board, Cops said, Chapin wrote the school a letter in which he said that the Warrior mascot "is not a racist depiction of the American Indian as was originally alleged."

By then, representatives of the American Indian Movement and other Native American groups had joined in the call for the removal of Woodbridge's mascot and logos, and school officials had already begun examining the issue.

"We took it as a legitimate invitation to look at ourselves," Cops said. "The times are different than when we opened 21 years ago."

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