Dr. T. Thunder Child American Indian Movement North West- Executive Director
To: Board of Directors JSUSD
Re: Native American Indian pejorative mascot.
Hello my name is Dr. T Thunder Child Ph. D. I am an enrolled member of the Chumash Nation I am Hunkpapa Lakota and Chumash by blood. I grew up in Western Contra Costa County and received my bachelors and my masters from SFSU. I am long time resident of the area. I am writing this letter in the capacity of- Executive Director of American Indian Movement North West. AIM North West stands firmly with Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPRIT) on the mascot issue. It has recently been brought to my attention that John Swett School District Board of Directors who had previously in a unanimous voice acknowledged the removal of the mascot- which pejoratively depicts Native Americans-it a has also unfortunately been brought to my attention that the board decided back peddle on this very historic and important decision. We applauded your conscious move forward in removing the hyper racialized Native American stereotyped mascot from your school banner. In kind i astonished by your decision to revert to an even older mascot name-“The Warriors”. This name change is akin to changing the name from “the negros” to “spear chucker”, which we could all agree is no change at all.
While these names- demoralizing Africans in America are extremely offensive. And, no one would ever even consider “honoring” our African American relatives by naming schools after them in this way –it is some how extremely acceptable to employ historically weighted phrases and iconography depicting Native American Indians in that same dehumanizing light. This practice of dehumanizing Native American Indians needs to come to an end. It is antiquated and beneath the values of our democracy. We could all agree- that these phrases and iconographies our unacceptable to the moral fiber of our country. A country whose constitution ensures that “all men are created equal” these dehumanizing caricatures symbolically construct Native American Indians in antithetical terms. We can also all agree that our civility and humanity should be held to a higher standard. In forming our “more perfect union”- that higher standard ought to as a -foundation of our civility -of our humanity- ensure empathy perception and innerstanding towards our countrymen. These words and iconography exercise non of that- they are offensive- hurtful and demeaning. It was for this reason that Assembly Bill 30 (AB 30) the California Racial Mascots Act prohibiting public schools from using these terms as a school or athletic team name; mascot, or nickname was introduced and passed. The spirit of the bill is to institutionalize this higher standard so as to ensue equitable representation of all Peoples.
California is the state with the largest Native American Indian population in the country. This practice of institutionalized racism within our schools should not be allowed to continue. It’s time for John Swett to do the right thing and out right end this practice.
Thank you very much for your time I know you will do the only conscionable thing –giving a proper name that will rightly honor your prestigious school.
Dr. T Thunder Child Ex. Director
AIM North West
Native American organization; Indian People Organizing for Change (IPOC), Co-Founder and Lead Organizer , Corrina Gould demands the removal of the warrior mascot at John Swett High school in Crockett, CA. IPOC is an organization that educates the public on issues affecting First Nations Peoples. IPOC promotes awareness and educates the public about the desecration of Native American sacred sites, and Shellmound desecration in the greater Bay Area.
Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPRIT) advocated for the removal of the Indian mascot, addressing John Swett Unified School District (JSUSD) in February of 2014. IPOC supported SSPRIT’s advocacy, providing a statement for the JSUSD Board of Education (BOE). SSPRIT is an organization that educates members of the community through seminars, workshops, discussion groups, and participation, to eliminate discrimination, and prejudice against Indigenous Peoples. SSPRIT’s goal is to educate the public about the moral and legal obligations to preserve and protect the sacred sites and places, and to uphold the civil, and human rights of all Indigenous Peoples.
In her correspondence to JSUSD BOE, IPOC, Co-Founder Corrina Gould stated, “Our people have heard many of the excuses of why naming a team after a race of people is supposed to be in some way honoring them. Our people decided that this is not a way of celebrating who we are, but rather it continues the devastation of dehumanizing us; a continued cultural genocide. School districts should strive to teach its students the real history of the space they now occupy on Ohlone territory”.
On February 11, 2015, one year after SSPRIT’s advocacy began, JSUSD BOE voted unanimously to remove the Indian mascot. JSUSD BOE, and SSPRIT agreed, the Indian mascot removal could provide a teachable moment. The district approved a SSPRIT mascot discourse for students. SSPRIT facilitated the discourse at John Swett High School; all students, grades 9-12. The discourse addressed cultural relevancy & appropriate mascot replacements. At this time, the warrior was a popular mascot replacement choice within the JSUSD community; including, several, but not all JSUSD BOE members, students, parents, and alumni. SSPRIT advised the board that Warrior mascots often portray images of violence, weapons of violence, and that warrior mascots are most often depicted as Native American. There are 85 schools in California that use Warrior as their mascot; each is depicted as Native American. Prior to the mascot discourse, JSUSD BOE created a Resolution forbidding the use of violent imagery, and forms of violence in connection to their schools.
Despite JSUSD’s Resolution, and despite the Native American Cultural Educational Consulting provided by SSPRIT, On February 15, 2016, JSUSD BOE voted to replace the Indian Mascot with Warrior. In response to JSUSD’s decision, IPOC, Lead Organizer, Corrina Gould states, “I am disappointed that in this time of great change, the work that has been put into working together as different communities, to educate one another, to see different perspectives; to honor one another with respect; has been cast aside. I am demanding that the school board reassess their decision to change the mascot name to warriors. I am asking that this Board do what is ethically, and morally right, to be the leaders that our children can look up to, to make the right decision, and to retract the last vote”. SSPRIT will be addressing the JSUSD Warrior Mascot at the districts next school board meeting on Wednesday, March 9, 2016.
SSPRIT is hosting a Teach-Out, and Meet & Greet prior to the JSUSD BOE meeting from 4:00- 5:30pm. The Teach-Out is located at Lefty Gomez Recreational Center, 470 Parker Avenue, Rodeo, CA. Snacks and refreshments will be made available. The JSUSD, BOE meeting is located next door at 400 Parker Avenue, and begins at 6: 30pm.
To see Corrina’s letter in its entirety, please visit:
SSPRIT has remained relatively distant from the Crockett Facebook pages, only to alert community members about upcoming events regarding the Indian mascot issue. However, in preparation for the school board meeting this Wednesday, March 9th (where the board will revisit their unethical vote which named Warrior as the new school mascot) we have been posting memes exposing the correlations between Warrior mascots and settler-colonist patterns of behavior.
After this meme was posted, the conversation took an ugly turn, where one pro-Warrior mascot community member, Emmett Davis, told Indigenous educator, Makhapo Blu Wakpa, to “Shoot your arrows elsewhere…we shot back before and kicked your ass, remember? History repeats itself.” He continued “yeah, thats right Wackpa or whatever your savage name is…sure…”.
That wasn’t all. See for yourself. The entire conversation was captured:
This is an example of the racist backlash that will arise over and over again when Indigenous Peoples voice concerns about the appropriateness of the Warrior mascot. So the question becomes, why does JSUSD want to play with this kind of fire?
On February 11, 2015, the John Swett Unified School District Board unanimously passed their historic vote to retire the Indian mascot. On January 13, 2016, in the presence of Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPRIT), who has been working closely with the district on the mascot transition, the Board voted 3-2 (James Delgadillo and Deborah Brandon opposed) to abandon the “Warrior” option as a replacement. This was primarily due to the concerns with its association with violence, and the Board’s unanimously adopted resolution “rejecting all forms of human violence or violent imagery depicting human violence in association with our school”. But also, there was hesitation in choosing another potentially offensive mascot, another human mascot, or even a living mascot for that matter.
Yet on February 10th, 2016, the same Board participated in an unethical vote which named “Warrior” as the replacement. Not only was the vote in violation of their previous agreement to keep Warrior out of the final student poll, it also neglected to consider the high school students’ final polling choice between Raptors, Wildcats, Rockets, Tide, and Thunder.
So how does a Board one day make a decision, and the very next month so effortlessly disrespect their very own process? What is the point of unanimously passing a progressive resolution to protect our youth from violent imagery when there was never really any intention to adhere to the principals set forth? Do Board members simply vote as they see the cards falling, so as to avoid potential embarrassment from making the “wrong” decision? And what example is being set for the students when they see community leaders do whatever they want at the expense of their own word?
There have been many mistakes made in the mascot decolonization process, highlighting the lack of leadership (both with the board and administration) which has been evident throughout. After failure to initially include an Indigenous perspective in the mascot transition, ill-conceived student and community polls, a stalled student vote, and ongoing board meeting deliberations, it was finally decided that the students would receive education from Native Americans before their final vote. They would be provided perspective on the reasons for the change, and alternatives to status quo thinking for new mascot selection. Indigenous educators, SSPRIT Executive Director Dr. Makha Blu Wakpa and Secretary Angelheart, would receive payment for these services. Board member Brian Colombo even offered this from his individual stipend, to demonstrate how valuable this education was.
Earlier last June, Board Member Brandon stated, “I do not feel it is appropriate for us to make their (the students) choice”, clearly expressing her view on the importance of student agency. Yet on February 10th, she did make their choice. With the help of a few community members reminding the Board about upcoming school bond issues and threatening their favor, Brandon suddenly pushed Warrior through with a 3-1 vote (Colombo opposed); Board President Jerry Parsons was absent. (Click here to listen to audio recording of the meeting. Mascot issues begins at 2:03:10) This vote was conducted without regard for the mascot discourse the students had just received.
Why did the board approve the mascot transition consultation services of SSPRIT only to disregard the potential educational impacts they may have had in the end? It seems to suggest that significant social justice issues are valued simply for their pomp and circumstance. That the retirement of the Indian was achieved out of a “moral obligation”, rather than a honest desire towards reconciliation of past and present institutional policies that have worked to harm Indigenous Peoples and all People of Color. The example that is set is that power and privilege takes what it wants in the end, regardless.
The appropriateness of the Warrior mascot, especially on the heels of the Indian, has been hotly debated for a year. The Warrior found strong favor with a few vocal Crockett community members, the same folks who were steadfastly opposed to the Indian’s removal. This correlation begs the question as to whether the Warrior could be, to some, a simple rebranding of the Indian, especially when there is a lack of recognition for the reasons the change occurred in the first place.
As with any important decision, there must be consideration of the potentially harmful ramifications that could result from that decision. So with the selection of a new school mascot, we have to acknowledge the long oppressive history concerning the use of Native American mascots in schools, and the “Warrior” designation is a part of that. Tria Blu Wakpa, UC Berkeley PhD candidate and SSPRIT Public Relations Officer, states, “In the assimilative environments of Indian boarding schools, educators largely restricted ideas about Indianness to arts and athletics. This reflects derogatory ideas about the value of Native American ways of knowing, which were supposedly appropriate on the court, but not in the classroom. In U.S. Schools, the name ‘Warriors’ has often be synonymous with ‘Indians’.”
Equally problematic with the connection between Warrior and Native Peoples is its connection with war. With a simple Google search, one can find pages upon pages of evidence that violence, domination, and patriarchy cannot be teased out of our association with Warrior, no matter how noble or “peaceful” the intentions may be. So the question becomes why, then, do we want to refer to our children as warriors? In this world devastated by war, when people are desperately fleeing their homes and walking across countries with their children in arm, when one mass shooting happens every day in this country and are becoming more and more rampant in our schools, why do we want to initiate our most vulnerable onto our path of self-destruction?
But all debate regarding the appropriateness of “Warrior” aside, the JSUSD Board does need to answer for the violations of its own protocol to regain the trust of its community. And in the end, if Warrior is kept as John Swett High School’s new mascot, it must be acknowledged that students and community members will adopt their own imagery: violent, Native or otherwise. The administration must be required to clearly outline how it intends to control the harmful expressions that will conflict with the Board’s declarations.
John Swett Unified had a tremendous opportunity to engage in some real reconciliation work with the retiring of a racist tradition. Let’s hope there can be some real humility involved in rectifying this mess, and that the district can move beyond the simple surface level shifts and commit to meaningful institutional change.
The next JSUSD Board meeting is scheduled for March 9th at 6:30pm, 400 Parker Ave., Rodeo. Parents, students and community members are encouraged to attend, fill out speaker cards, and let your voices be heard. Each speaker has 3 minutes to address the board.
SSPRIT will be hosting a Meet&Greet March 9th before the JSUSD Board Meeting. Come join the discussion and learn about the issues surrounding human mascots! 4:00-6:00pm at Lefty Gomez Recreation Center. Refreshments will be served!
On February 11, 2015, Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPRIT), a Vallejo based organization, advocated in partnership with The Carquinez Coalition to Change the Mascot (CCCM) to remove the Indian mascot at John Swett High School located in Crockett, CA. After a unanimous vote, John Swett Unified School District (JSUSD) removed the nearly 90 year old mascot. On February 10, 2016, John Swett Unified School District replaced the Indian mascot with Warrior. Why has JSUSD, Board of Education decided to choose Warriors as a replacement after the removal of an Indian Mascot? Why is JSUSD subjecting young people to images, and ideas that promote, and support war, and violence in school?
As a United States Army Veteran (Desert Shield/Desert Storm), trained in methods of war, I am disappointed that an institution of education would promote violence in connection with their schools. Personally, I would never want my daughter or grandchildren to glorify the horrors of violence, mutilation, and death promoted by war through a school mascot (or by any other means for that matter). The root of the word Warrior is “War”. A Warrior is someone who is engaged in conflict carried on by force of arms. War is a state, or period of armed hostility. War is active military operations, and is a method, or principle of waging armed conflict. War is the soldier’s business, and involves being active in hostility, contention, and conflict. Weapons training, and tactical defense training are not to be taken lightly, as they are used for killing during war. Why then would JSUSD feel a mascot associated with violence is acceptable? Young people are especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to violence. Young people are subjected to violence, and violent imagery in the home, the community, the media, and in schools. Whether the violence is real, based on real events, or fictional; the effects on youth include reduced sensitivity toward others, being more fearful, and behaving more aggressively. Some school districts across the United States have resolutions forbidding violent imagery in connection to their schools. Ironically, the JSUSD Board’s resolution forbidding violent imagery within the school district, recognizes the ways that violence negatively impa
cts youth; yet the school board contradicted their own resolution when electing warriors as a mascot.
JSUSD Board Member, Deborah Brandon has publicly defended the warrior mascot stating, “Our children are warriors. Anyone can be a warrior”. These statements were made by Deborah Brandon on more than one occasion during JSUSD board meetings in 2015. This is problematic because it goes against the districts resolution, and also contradicts the districts missions and beliefs. JSUSD Mission & Beliefs can be found on the district’s website, and states “John Swett Unified School District’s dedicated professionals work for the good of all students, focusing on promoting higher student achievement by motivating, and challenging every student to strive enthusiastically toward academic, and personal success. All Students can, and must experience success in their own learning.” “Professional staff must put forth high quality
effort, employ multiple teaching strategies, and work as a team to educate their students. Professional staff, and students are responsible for the quality of the educational experience, and all will be accountable for it. All people deserve to be treated with respect, and are expected to treat all others with respect. Partnerships among professional staff, students, parents, and community are most effective when positive attitudes are sought, encouraged, and shared”.
Replacing an Indian Mascot with Warrior is not an example of treating others with respect and is not an example of accountability; Warrior mascots are often associated or depicted as Native American. Depicting Warriors as the John Swett’s High School is synonymous with the legacy JSUSD has created with the former John Swett High School Indian mascot. John Swett High School yearbooks, student newsletters, school team sporting events, cheerleading, scoreboards, and uniforms have all promoted, and upheld this legacy. JSUSD yearbooks over the decades have included the term “Warrior” in relation to their Indian Mascot, and is documented online. For this reason alone, JSUSD should abandon Warriors as a mascot. Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes will continue to advocate for the removal of Native American mascots/Institutionalized racism, and mascots that promote violence in schools.
For More Information please contact: Sacred Sites Protection Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our Facebook Page: Save Sacredsites.
Audio Recordings of JSUSD Board of Education meetings are available online. To listen to the February 10th meeting, click here. The mascot issue starts at 2:03:10.
The next JSUSD meeting is on March 9, 2016 at 6:30pm. (Please refer to the above link for the districts office location) SSPRIT will be in attendance, addressing the Warrior mascot. The public is welcome to attend. SSPRIT will be providing a teach-out prior to the board meeting. For more information about the teach-out, please email: email@example.com or visit http://www.facebook.com/save.sacredsites.1
My name is Molly Batchelder. I am blessed to be a member of Sacred Sites Protection and Rights of Indigenous Tribes. And over the past two years I have been involved in the mascot decolonization work at John Swett High School, my alma mater.
This was me, playing Indian, when I was in high school. This was me, isolating the Native American experience as a 16 year old white girl: with faux buckskin and face paint, and tomahawk, likely performing the gestures we’ve all learned from Saturday morning cartoons and from playing cowboys and Indians. We all know these gestures. And this behavior was reinforced as acceptable, not only by mass media and pop culture, but by my learning institution. I was encouraged to actually BE an Indian. While opposing teams held up banners at football games that read: “Kill the Indians”; “Scalp the Indians.”
After the John Swett Education board voted unanimously this past March to retire their Indian mascot, one former student messaged me and said, “Great, thanks to you no one will even remember that Indians existed.” To which I replied, “Do you think Native Americans are extinct?”
The lines of fact and fiction are so blurred because of these mascots. For so many people in this country, the Indian I played in high school has actually replaced real human beings. Please, I ask you to think about the implications when the dominant culture gets to control the image of another culture. And then teaches its children to use the horrors of forgotten genocide as common sports banter.
I am not an Indian. I am European American, with a whole history of stories of my own and lines of ancestors that have contributed to the person I am today. I have a responsibility grow and develop my own image. Indigenous peoples have a responsibility to do the same with theirs, however they choose. And we all have a responsibility to see each other as human.
This is an exciting time. We are all now part of a mass movement where we have a chance to recognize the truth about these mascots and bring in together a new era of education and awareness for our future generations. Please, join us.