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!