6 Aug 2021
For opponents of the Amerindian mascots of the Southwest, 2021 has been a banner year.
In Nevada, Governor Steve Sisolak signed a bill on June 4 to ban the use of “racially discriminatory images” in “the name, logo, mascot, song or any other identifier” of any school. His Colorado counterpart, Governor Jared Polis, followed suit at the end of the month by authorizing a ban on Native American mascots in schools unrelated to a tribe.
The broader national climate has also changed: Following in the footsteps of the Washington football team, the Cleveland Indians of the MLB adopted a new name – the Guardians – after much public debate.
In Arizona, in 2018, State Representative Eric Descheenie (D-Chinle) introduced a bill targeting the Washington NFL team, banning the display of team names that tribes considered disparaging. in publicly funded facilities. He said the bill had never been given to a committee and that he was “dead on arrival”.
Now, amid growing legislative action in neighboring states, does Descheenie think the issue would get better in Arizona?
“No, I think it would be worse,” he said, noting an “extreme” policy in the state.
Republicans who control the Legislature are unwilling to have difficult conversations about topics like Native American mascots, Descheenie said.
“(For them) it’s about preserving power,” he said. “It’s not about developing the intelligence of our audience so that we can all benefit from cutting-edge ways of thinking. “
While Descheenie’s bill was aimed at an NFL team, “If the bill becomes law the next step would definitely be, we have to take a look at our public institutions because it’s no different,” a- he declared.
Native American iconography plays a role in Arizona school sports, as public high schools on and off reserve still use the old nicknames of Washington (Red Mesa and St. Johns), Apaches (Fort Thomas and Nogales) or Braves (San Carlos). They vary demographically: according to 2019-2020 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, students in Fort Thomas, San Carlos, and Red Mesa were over 90% American Indian / Alaska Native (with Red Mesa at 100%). St. Johns was at 8 percent, and Nogales did not list any students in the Native American / Alaska Native category.
Director Tim Colgate said the NHS has no formal relationship with the Apache people and there has been no recent conversation about the name among students or faculty. In the past, he said, the school has received letters of support and his group has been invited to tournaments based on the team name.
“It’s our mascot, and we’ve always worn it with a lot of pride,” he said, “and we made sure we always met those expectations.”
Nogales High School considered changing their mascot 25 years ago, before Colgate’s tenure.
At the time, then principal Marcelino Varona, Jr., told the Arizona Republic that the name would be changed at the end of the 1996-97 school year and that students would choose a new nickname. In the meantime, plans were to remove the school mascot that appeared during the games – a student dressed in a Native American costume with an oversized Apache head – and get rid of the public announcement that began, “Hello. , Apaches. Then came the removal of the face of Apache set in stone on the school sign and the renaming of Apache Stadium.
“We are a minority campus; 95 percent of our students are Hispanic. It is inappropriate to have the mascot of another minority culture. Especially when we use it in a negative connotation to go out and ‘kill’… the other team, ”he said.
When asked this week why the name change plan was unsuccessful, Varona said the school board ended it after coming under pressure from the community.
“Most of the feedback I received from students was that they wanted the change,” he said. “But the community was not on an equal footing with the students. That’s what repression was. So the parents started attending school council meetings and finally the school council said, “Let’s get it over with now.” You’re not going to change the name. And that stopped everything.
Still, Varona said, he took one last step before giving up the idea: he called a chief of the Apache tribe from San Carlos, who told him he was in favor of the Apache nickname in the NHS. The Arizona Republic story at the time also cited two Apache executives who said they agreed with the name.
Twenty-five years later, Varona is now a member of the school board. When asked what his position would be if the renaming issue came up, he replied that it would depend on who was behind.
“If the students ask, I would more than likely support the students. But if it’s from the admin or the parents, I’m not interested in supporting this. The name change must be motivated by the students, ”he said.
Other high schools bearing the Apache name, such as Vallejo High School in California, changed it.
“I cannot comment on other states or schools or other relationships,” said Colgate, the current director of the NHS. “I know it’s always been a very positive relationship in any relationship we’ve had, and we’ll continue to keep it that way.”
As to why the topic of Native American team names has not returned to the Arizona Legislature, Descheenie compared it to modern discourse on racial issues in education.
“When it comes to things like critical race theory, or this issue of racist mascots and the detrimental effects it has on Native American populations, especially the younger population, they’re not going to go there. “, did he declare.
These detrimental effects, Descheenie added, are felt in Native American communities through issues such as access to water, high school graduation rates and the self-esteem of Indigenous youth in general.
Not all Native Americans agree that names and logos are racist, arguing that Native people gain self-esteem through such portrayal. The Native American Guardians nonprofit represents them.
Jonathan Tso, a group leader who once co-founded a fan club for the Washington NFL team in the Four Corners area, fondly remembers encountering Indigenous iconography while playing basketball.
“That Native image that’s in the middle of that basketball court in this high school makes me proud,” Tso said, “knowing that people represent us and that people are proud of Native Americans.”
Tony Henson, another Illinois leader, said the group opposes “blatantly cartoonish caricatures,” but otherwise sees Indigenous imagery, coupled with a comprehensive education on Indigenous cultures, as a way to keep indigenous peoples in the public eye. The association is trying to sue Colorado over the new law on the grounds of the First and Fourteenth Amendment.
“They take that away from individual Native Americans who are going to be denied this opportunity to be honored in the same way we bind our Founding Fathers,” Henson said.
The association generally supports partnerships with local tribes.
“I think getting an education right from the source would be a very good thing,” said Crystal Tso, Jonathan’s wife and another group leader.
Jonathan Tso admitted that “it hurts a bit” to see people wearing war bonnet at football games in Washington, but said education can teach them when hats are meant to be worn.
However, the group does not want such partnerships to be mandatory, as Colorado law does.
“We don’t think these sovereign tribes and individual school communities should have to get approval from anyone,” Henson said.
He approves partnerships for names that refer to a specific tribe, such as the Utes. But because the class of honored warriors that many generic team names pay homage to no longer exists, he said, no group owns it.
The Native American Guardians Association argues that these laws erase Native American culture and place a financial burden on schools. As legislative efforts have intensified across the country, the association has repeatedly equated the removal of these team names as “cultural genocide” and linked it to the cancellation of culture.
“I think the momentum from last year, with Black Lives Matter and all that converged at the same time,” said Henson, “created an opportunity for activists to step in and have their best. leverage with these politicians. “
There have been recent changes in Arizona: Thunderbird High School in Glendale got rid of its Chiefs name in 2020 after a student-led move.
Henson’s group frequently calls the removal of names of indigenous-influenced teams eradication. Descheenie doesn’t see it that way.
“Native American populations are not supported by contemporary society,” he said. “They are underpinned by an entirely alternative body of knowledge that is rooted in a place that predates the existence of the United States of America. … So when it comes to erasing, there’s nothing quite like it when it comes to things like mascots. Our existence has nothing to do with these mascots.
(Supplementary report from Nogales International.)