Activists Tell Fullerton to Drop Indian Mascot


Six months after winning a partial concession from a local high school over the use of its Indian-themed mascot, local Native American activists are now calling for the removal of a similar mascot at Fullerton Union High School, one of the oldest campuses in Orange County.

Earlier this month, Daniel Chapin, who represents the national American Indian Movement, sent a letter to Fullerton school officials complaining that the high school’s Indian mascot is offensive and insensitive to Native Americans.

In May, Chapin and other American Indian activists won a compromise from Irvine’s Woodbridge High School over its use of the Warrior mascot.

The school agreed to get rid of a live cartoonish mascot--a person dressed in costume--who performed at school games, but declined to change the Warriors name or paint over team logos. The school also agreed to introduce a Native American curriculum in courses starting next year.


The arguments are familiar, and the strong emotions the issue evokes have diminished little in a national debate that has gone on for nearly 30 years.

Fullerton school officials say they have started to eliminate offensive aspects of their mascot, but that there are no immediate plans to change the Indians name.

“After meeting with parents and alumni groups and the faculty, we pretty much decided that while nobody wants to offend anyone, we don’t want to change the mascot,” said Principal Greg Franklin.

That doesn’t satisfy Native Americans.


“I’ve heard it all before,” said Eugene Herrod, board member of the Fountain Valley-based Southern California Indian Center and a longtime advocate on the mascot issue. “They say, ‘We’ve removed things that are offensive.’ How do they know what is offensive and what is not offensive? They are still using American Indian imagery.”

For almost a century, the Fullerton school Indian has been a symbol of pride for students, faculty and alumni in the northern Orange County community.

But many Native Americans say that what is a symbol of pride for some is a deep source of pain for them.

“The Native American people are a culture,” said Chapin. “We are not mascots or icons. We are not running around with bow and arrows or sitting around a campfire as depicted all over the place.”


Chapin said he was satisfied with the agreement reached with Woodbridge earlier this year because the school is moving in the right direction, but ultimately he wants to see all Indian mascots, including the Warriors, banished.

Fullerton and Woodbridge are among three Orange County high schools that use American Indian mascots. Canyon High School in Anaheim is known as the Comanches.

Opponents of American Indian sports mascots estimate there are more than 180 public schools in California that use such names as Braves, Warriors, Redskins and Indians.

The advocates have won some significant battles. In 1997, the Los Angeles Unified School District banned such mascots. And the New York state education commission in April called for schools to voluntarily eliminate racially offensive mascots.


Mascots Said to Be Dehumanizing

Some activists say the pace of change is still too slow.

Chapin, who is half Cherokee, said he is prepared to demonstrate at the Fullerton school if officials do not address the issue. He has talked with district officials and is meeting with them Dec. 5. He said he will also address the board of trustees at its next scheduled meeting, Dec. 11.

Chapin and Herrod say they understand that schools do not intend to demean Native Americans and that they may think they are paying homage to the mascot. But they argue that the practice ignores their people’s history of subjugation by European colonizers and social inequities they say Native Americans still feel today.


Herrod, who is Muskogee-Creek, and others say the mascots dehumanize Native Americans, putting them in the same category as lions, tigers and bears, all popular mascots. Herrod said mascots such as Indians or Braves are not the same as the University of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish, for example.

Notre Dame was founded by Irish Catholics and the mascot was meant to honor their history, but most Indian mascots were not chosen by Native Americans.

Even with the best of intentions, Herrod said, the Indian murals at Fullerton High and the totem pole in front of the school’s administrative office are offensive, the advocates say.

Herrod originally approached the Fullerton Joint Union High School District a year ago at its board of trustees meeting. Chapin, who is not affiliated with Herrod, is pressing his own demands.


District officials and Franklin, the Fullerton principal, say that even before they were approached by activists, the school had worked to increase awareness and sensitivity to Native Americans’ point of view among students and faculty.

The school eliminated the title Tepee Tales from its PTA newsletter and caricatures of the mascot are prohibited on school literature. This year, students are studying aspects of Native American history and culture.

The school also brought 1964 Olympic gold medalist and Native American Billy Mills to speak to students this year. Franklin said students were touched when Mills explained why the Indian mascot is offensive.

“As we become more educated on Native American issues and history,” Franklin said, “several people have changed perspectives on the mascot issue. We need better education to make better-educated decisions.”


The school has also consulted with the Orange County Human Relations Commission, which last year brought in a play, “Kicks,” about the struggles of a Native American student with her school’s use of an Indian mascot.

“Confrontation tends to polarize people,” said the commissions’ executive director, Rusty Kennedy, a 1970 Fullerton Union High graduate. He said it is important to address the activists, but also to persuade rather than to have school administrators force change on students, who are “tired of being told how to think.”

Activist Vows to Keep Pressure on

Herrod would rather not leave it to the students or local officials.


“They are not going to change unless they are pressured,” he said. “It sounds like the rhetoric during the backlash of the civil rights movement: ‘These things take time.’ ”

In the last year, Herrod has filed complaints with the state and U.S. education departments against five Central and Northern California high schools for their use of the name Redskins, which he says is derogatory and discriminates against Native American students.

In 1999, he successfully argued a similar case with the Department of Motor Vehicles, which later banned personalized license plates with the word Redskins and any variations.

For the time being, Fullerton high school is still the Indians. No one is sure how the mascot was chosen, but “the legend is that one of the first teachers at the school was a graduate of Stanford University,” which used to be known as the Indians, said Michael F. Escalante, district superintendent.


The university changed its name to the Cardinal in 1972, after a petition from Native American students.