The Insensitivity of “Indian” Mascots

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Image Courtesy of Change.org

After much backlash of the Hart mascot, many local activists have pushed for it’s retirement.

Kelly Zarate, The Scroll, Co-Editor in Chief

Ever since the 1940s, Hart High School has been known for its infamous mascot of the “Indian.” Recently, there has been a discussion regarding retiring the mascot because of its racial prejudice and insensitivity to Native American culture. As the United States begins to progress further from a controversial past and move towards a better future it is time for the Hart District to reconsider the offensive mascot. 

During the summer of 2020, amidst the Black Lives Matter Protests, young American citizens throughout the country began protesting for racial equality and began holding their own community responsible, including local protesters in our hometown of Santa Clarita.  All eyes quickly turned to Hart High School’s controversial mascot, “the Indian.”

Recently, there have been numerous District Board meetings regarding the topic as local activists, board members,  and the local Fernandeno band of Tataviam Indians have all voiced their opinion in this discussion.  A statement from the Tataviam tribal senate regarding the removal of race-based mascots states: “It is demeaning to depict us–the first People of northern Los Angeles County–as mascots because it does not honor our history, ancestors, or culture.” 

According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), it is not necessarily the mascot that is harmful to their culture, but the image the mascot insinuates, “As the nation’s oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native advocacy organization, NCAI has long held a clear position against derogatory and harmful stereotypes of Native people—including sports mascots—in media and popular culture.” 

Julia Estrada, a Hart alum and of Native American descent said, “I played tennis and in order to ‘pump up the team’ some girls would make stereotypical ‘Indian’ noises by patting their hands over their mouth. Given that my parents would watch my matches from time to time, they would get extremely uncomfortable whenever that happened.” 

Rudy Ortega, the Tribal President of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians said that the Hart macost is a Plains Indian, “We wanted the correction because as we are recapturing and educating our own children, our own tribe, they don’t the understanding if you’re going to Hart and you want to honor Tataviam people…That doesn’t honor a representation of who we are.” 

On the campus, the student body is referred to as “The Tribe” and among them, there is a selected member called “The Tribe Leader,” who is usually seen wearing a headdress–a symbol of strength and bravery–along with red face paint. 

As a result of the backlash to the mascot, the District Board members have decided that no students will be allowed to use a teepee, make any stereotypical “Indian” chants, or wear the feathered headdresses at school events. 

Many may pose the question of the representation the mascot brings for Native Americans in the area, but wrongly portraying their culture is not a form of representation. “Native Americans are an existing people with an existing culture that persisted through genocide to be here today. If a mascot is the only thing that provides representation, that demonstrates how our education system lacks inclusion of Native stories and history.” said Estrada in an interview with The Scroll.

To further represent their culture, there is an opportunity to educate the students of Santa Clarita Valley about the history of local Native Americans.“My tribe is advocating for ethics studies in the state of California to be part of the curriculum for high school students, to understand more about California Indians and the history here. Not enough of it is being informed,” said Ortega.

Students and residents throughout the Hart District have rallied behind the cause to change the mascot and have signed the petition to retire it. There is more information on the Retire The Hart Mascot website. Though the board has not yet made a decision, it is evident that now is the time to urge the William S. Hart Union High School District to change the mascot.

Instead of living in a country where Native Americans feel prejudiced on their own land, the Hart District can begin to create a community that makes Native Americans feel safe and honored. 

 

The opinions in The Scroll’s editorials are strictly the views of the writers of the staff or outside submissions. The views do not represent or reflect the opinions or policies of Saugus High School or the William S. Hart School District. The Scroll welcomes all reactions and outside submissions to share alternative views.