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Orange County

Activists Tell Fullerton to Drop Indian Mascot

Culture: Two campaigners want the high school's symbol retired. Officials decline, but have removed a live costumed figure from athletic events.

November 23, 2001|DANIEL YI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Six months after winning a partial concession from a local high school over the use of its Indian-themed mascot, local Native American activists are now calling for the removal of a similar mascot at Fullerton Union High School, one of the oldest campuses in Orange County.

Earlier this month, Daniel Chapin, who represents the national American Indian Movement, sent a letter to Fullerton school officials complaining that the high school's Indian mascot is offensive and insensitive to Native Americans.

In May, Chapin and other American Indian activists won a compromise from Irvine's Woodbridge High School over its use of the Warrior mascot.

The school agreed to get rid of a live cartoonish mascot--a person dressed in costume--who performed at school games, but declined to change the Warriors name or paint over team logos. The school also agreed to introduce a Native American curriculum in courses starting next year.

The arguments are familiar, and the strong emotions the issue evokes have diminished little in a national debate that has gone on for nearly 30 years.

Fullerton school officials say they have started to eliminate offensive aspects of their mascot, but that there are no immediate plans to change the Indians name.

"After meeting with parents and alumni groups and the faculty, we pretty much decided that while nobody wants to offend anyone, we don't want to change the mascot," said Principal Greg Franklin.

That doesn't satisfy Native Americans.

"I've heard it all before," said Eugene Herrod, board member of the Fountain Valley-based Southern California Indian Center and a longtime advocate on the mascot issue. "They say, 'We've removed things that are offensive.' How do they know what is offensive and what is not offensive? They are still using American Indian imagery."

For almost a century, the Fullerton school Indian has been a symbol of pride for students, faculty and alumni in the northern Orange County community.

But many Native Americans say that what is a symbol of pride for some is a deep source of pain for them.

"The Native American people are a culture," said Chapin. "We are not mascots or icons. We are not running around with bow and arrows or sitting around a campfire as depicted all over the place."

Chapin said he was satisfied with the agreement reached with Woodbridge earlier this year because the school is moving in the right direction, but ultimately he wants to see all Indian mascots, including the Warriors, banished.

Fullerton and Woodbridge are among three Orange County high schools that use American Indian mascots. Canyon High School in Anaheim is known as the Comanches.

Opponents of American Indian sports mascots estimate there are more than 180 public schools in California that use such names as Braves, Warriors, Redskins and Indians.

The advocates have won some significant battles. In 1997, the Los Angeles Unified School District banned such mascots. And the New York state education commission in April called for schools to voluntarily eliminate racially offensive mascots.

Mascots Said to Be Dehumanizing

Some activists say the pace of change is still too slow.

Chapin, who is half Cherokee, said he is prepared to demonstrate at the Fullerton school if officials do not address the issue. He has talked with district officials and is meeting with them Dec. 5. He said he will also address the board of trustees at its next scheduled meeting, Dec. 11.

Chapin and Herrod say they understand that schools do not intend to demean Native Americans and that they may think they are paying homage to the mascot. But they argue that the practice ignores their people's history of subjugation by European colonizers and social inequities they say Native Americans still feel today.

Herrod, who is Muskogee-Creek, and others say the mascots dehumanize Native Americans, putting them in the same category as lions, tigers and bears, all popular mascots. Herrod said mascots such as Indians or Braves are not the same as the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish, for example.

Notre Dame was founded by Irish Catholics and the mascot was meant to honor their history, but most Indian mascots were not chosen by Native Americans.

Even with the best of intentions, Herrod said, the Indian murals at Fullerton High and the totem pole in front of the school's administrative office are offensive, the advocates say.

Herrod originally approached the Fullerton Joint Union High School District a year ago at its board of trustees meeting. Chapin, who is not affiliated with Herrod, is pressing his own demands.

District officials and Franklin, the Fullerton principal, say that even before they were approached by activists, the school had worked to increase awareness and sensitivity to Native Americans' point of view among students and faculty.

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