Burbank School Board Declines to Address Indian Mascot Issue


For some, it's just not a good time. For others, it's way past time.

And at its meeting last week, the Burbank Unified School District board barely gave the time of day to an effort to stop a campus from using a Native American as its mascot.

The board declined to authorize a study of adopting a less controversial mascot for John Burroughs High School. A motion to do so died for lack of a second.

"It's just not a time right now that we're willing to make a change," board President Elena Hubbell said.

The district is among many that have resisted a 30-year campaign to drop Native American mascots, which are culturally offensive to some people. About 600 educational institutions nationwide, including those in the Los Angeles Unified School District, have abandoned such mascots in recent years, according to a New York state Education Department study.

In California, 187 public schools still use Native American mascots, according to Eugene Herrod, spokesman for Advocates for American Indian Children. Those include the Arcadia High School Apaches, the La Puente High School Warriors, the Hart High School Indians in Newhall and the Burroughs High School Indians, said Lori Nelson, a director with the Southern California Alliance Against Racial Mascots.

Three California schools--all in the Central Valley--cling to the name of Redskins, which is widely regarded as a racial slur, Nelson said.

"They say, 'We're honoring Indians,' and Indians say, 'We're not honored,' " she added.

The Burbank motion seeking a study was the second in as many meetings by board member Trish Burnett, who said she won't give up.

"We take what is sacred to [Native Americans] and use it for fun and games," she said. "It belittles them."

Los Angeles Unified banned all racial mascots in 1997, a decision challenged in court by a Birmingham High School booster. A federal judge upheld the prohibition in 1998 and Birmingham's Braves became the Patriots.

In the mid-1970s, the Stanford University Indians became the Cardinal. The Redskins of St. John's University in New York became the Red Storm in 1991. Ohio's Miami University Redskins became the Redhawks in 1997.

Professional teams such as baseball's Atlanta Braves and football's Washington Redskins have also rejected calls for change.

Burroughs students and alumni pleaded with the board to keep the mascot, which has been a school trademark for more than 50 years.

"It's part of the city; it's part of our lives," said Greg McMurdo, who will be a senior at Burroughs in the fall.

"It's not directed at any race; it's simply a sports team," said Sean Coulter, another incoming senior.

But Thomas Saenz, a Los Angeles civil rights attorney, told the board the mascot exposes the school to racial harassment lawsuits.

"There's every educational and universal reason for you to abandon these mascots," he said.

Herrod of Advocates for American Indian Children said at the meeting that Native American cartoon images in the school yearbook desecrate Indian religious symbols.

"How long would a team last if it were called the Burroughs Negroes? How long would a team last if it were called the Burroughs Jews?" Herrod said.

Critics also say the mascots can be psychologically harmful. Rose Clark of the American Indian Counseling Center said such mascots have damaging effects on Native American children, often leaving them feeling inferior.

"People say they're honoring the culture, but you have to have knowledge of the culture and what is honorable to them to do that," Clark said.

Others say that no matter how respectful Burroughs students are toward the mascot, it doesn't stop fans of opposing teams at sporting events from holding signs that state, "Slaughter the Indians."

Burroughs parent and alumna Sue McKenzie, however, insisted there is nothing derogatory about the mascot, which she wants to keep.

"Indian people should be proud that there are people that want to represent them and follow in their footsteps and conduct themselves with dignity and honor," she said.

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