A Northern California school district is recommending that its main high school’s Apache mascot be changed.
The Apache, adopted decades ago, has long been a sensitive issue for Vallejo High School, and altering it has been raised several times over the years, according to the Vallejo Times Herald. The matter will be decided at the board’s Wednesday meeting.
The mascot is offensive to some Native Americans, according to a staff report prepared for the Vallejo City Unified School District’s governing board.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that the use of Native American images and nicknames in schools should be avoided, and other schools have changed their mascots, the staff report notes.
The report does not suggest a replacement mascot.
"We've always tried to bring dignity and pride to the tribal name. For us it's always been a positive. We've never tried to use it in a negative manner," Vallejo head coach and athletic director Mike Wilson told the Times Herald.
Though it was not on the agenda, supporters and opponents of changing the Apache overflowed into the board’s hallways at its Nov. 6 meeting.
"What you're doing -- using native images and native names -- it's racist, it's demeaning," Karen Doris Wright told the board, according to the Times Herald.
The mascot is disrespectful to Native American history and perpetuates the idea that indigenous peoples' culture is not a living culture, according to the Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes, a Vallejo group.
If the mascot is changed, the school will probably keep its colors, the Times Herald reported.
The Coachella Valley Unified School District has had a similar debate over one of its schools' mascots, the Arab. The district will announce the latest developments in its talks with a civil rights group at a news conference Tuesday.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee urged Coachella Valley High School to eliminate the mascot -- a man with a large nose and heavy beard wearing a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab head covering -- saying the school is perpetuating demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans, according to a Nov. 1 letter to the district superintendent.
In a letter to the Desert Sun, Supt. Darryl Adams wrote that the mascot, chosen in the 1920s, was “never meant to dishonor or ridicule anyone” and was designed to show respect for Middle Eastern cultures and crops grown in the Coachella Valley. However, he added, it is time to revisit the concept if the mascot is marginalizing a community.
“Times change, people change, and, subsequently, even symbols and words embraced for decades may need to be considered for change as well,” Adams wrote.
The civil rights group said it understands the context in which the mascot was chosen, but those reasons are not justifiable in the 21st century. The Washington Redskins, for example, were named during a time when there was no racial tolerance, said Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the committee.
"We've moved forward in this country, we no longer live in those times and there needs to be an understanding of those minority groups," he said. "Respecting the heritage and paying homage to the heritage could be done in a way that is not offensive."