Touted as a source of pride for sports teams – usually by fans who show it with “spirit dances” and “tomahawk chops” while wearing fake feather headdresses and sloppy face paint – “Redskins” is an insult to American Indians and should disappear from use.
Complicating the issue, however, are these two facts: Fans of Redskins schools and teams don’t recognize the name as a slur, and some American Indians are OK with Redskins.
That said, Gov. Jerry Brown did the right thing Oct. 11 when he signed Assembly Bill 30 by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, banning all public schools from using the word as a name for a sports team or a mascot. Two high schools took action before the legislation became law. Colusa High and Mountain Empire in Pine Valley changed their nicknames to the Redhawks.
The law affects four high schools in Calaveras, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties. But if the schools pick a new name, they’ll be able to keep any team uniforms bought before 2017.
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In signing the bill, Brown showed courage that the National Football League has yet to muster with the Washington Redskins. It should be noted, too, that in 2004 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that banned the Redskins nickname for public schools.
California is the first state in the nation to make such a statement. It’s an acknowledgment of the pain and anguish that many American Indians feel over past atrocities and persistent stereotypes and discrimination, as powerfully illustrated when the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of Yolo County helped fund the Change the Mascot campaign aimed at the NFL and its franchise in Washington, D.C.
Not everyone gets that, of course.
Mayor Dennis Brazil of Gustine, home of the Gustine High School Redskins, vowed on Facebook to keep fighting the law all the way to the Supreme Court. Ronald Seals, superintendent of Chowchilla Union High School District, told the Los Angeles Times that lawmakers “are taking away something loved and respected in this community.”
Gustine High, Chowchilla Union High, Tulare Union High and Calaveras High in San Andreas all became Redskins in the 1920s and 1930s, years before American Indians gained full voting rights in all states in 1957. The name, the schools say, is merely tradition. But tradition doesn’t justify mocking and carelessly adopting parts of another culture, even if the intention isn’t to offend.
The fact that people have a hard time understanding this is proof that as a state – and, hopefully, as a country – we must do more than ban the use of words that insult American Indians. For certain, we must teach students a more complete and honest view of history.
We understand that change can be difficult. But we are confident that these four schools will get past this and create new traditions that excite students, teachers and communities.
As Cathy Mederos, president of the Tulare Joint Union High School District board, said after Brown signed AB 30: “The school isn’t just defined by the mascot. There’s a long history of academic and athletic success … and that’s not going to change. It’ll continue to be a great school.”