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Statewide Ban on Indian Mascots Is Considered

Bill is similar to one vetoed by governor last year and would affect five high schools.

April 13, 2005|John Spano | Times Staff Writer

Almost a decade after American Indian mascots were banned from Los Angeles public schools, lawmakers are again considering a statewide prohibition on "Redskins" this week.

Proponents contend that the legislation would banish the mascot from five California schools that use it.

A bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles) would affect Calaveras High School, Chowchilla Union High School, Colusa High School, Gustine High School and Tulare Union High School.

A similar bill was passed by the California Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said the issue should be decided locally. He has yet to take a position on Goldberg's pending bill.

Dozens of civil rights groups and Indian tribes have endorsed the measure. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has endorsed a broad ban, saying the mascots trivialize Indian culture, perpetuate harmful stereotypes and are insensitive to the forced assimilation of native Americans.

Tulare Principal Howard Berger said the school, community and several nearby tribes continue to endorse the use of the Redskins mascot, which appears prominently on the school's website. He calls it a source of pride.

"We have never had a complaint on the use of the Redskin mascot from local Indians," Berger said. "We've had some e-mail from people from Los Angeles. That's as close to local opposition as it comes."

Goldberg says the Redskins mascot is racist. The pending bill would have the same effect as the one the governor vetoed last year.

"It's a time when people, rather unthinkingly, not with any malice, believe that you can pick anything you want for a mascot and it's nobody business but your school's," Goldberg said Monday.

Her proposal will be considered in a committee today. The Assembly Education Committee, which she heads, has approved it.

Goldberg has been backed by the Alliance Against Racial Mascots, a group that seeks to eliminate American Indian mascots, logos, team names and nicknames in all California schools and educational institutions.

The group successfully pushed for action in Los Angeles, then three years ago lobbied the Commission on Civil Rights for a statement of support.

In 1997, the Los Angeles Unified School Board bowed to demands by American Indian political activists to discontinue the use of American Indian symbols and mascots, casting aside the University High Warriors and the Gardena High Mohicans, among others.

Berger said the Tulare school has used the mascot since 1924.

"We have consulted with native American tribes in this area, the Tule River tribe and the Santa Rosa Rancheria Tachi tribes. Both have visited our campus, toured facilities, talked to our staff and students, and both say they have no qualms with the mascot," Berger said.

"We agree with the governor. This is a local issue," Berger said. "I would hope they [legislators] have more important things to deal with."

Goldberg cited a national civil rights campaign over the last 30 years that persuaded Stanford University to transform its Indians into its current distinctive logo, the Cardinal. She said the change had no adverse impact on the school.

"This is offensive because of its historic reference to scalping Indians," said Goldberg, which she said was "a terrible time in American history, when the only good Indian was a dead Indian."

If local control were to govern civil rights, Goldberg said, there would be none.

"The genius of America is not about majority rules, it's that the minority is not allowed to be stomped on just because they have smaller numbers. That's a very different approach than most other countries in the world," Goldberg said. "We give that up every time we say, 'Gee, people like the name Redskins.' "

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