Monday, April 28, 2008

Tempest In A Teepee?

Not only is Carpinteria the locale of the "world's safest beach," the seaside hamlet can now lay claim to another title; home of the "County's most controversial mascot."

Students, alumni and boosters are on the warpath ever since the local school board announced that Carpinteria High School, whose athletic teams are known as the "Warriors," would be ridding itself of all Native American imagery.

Now, before I go any further let me disclose my own checkered past in this area. I was once a Boy Scout and a member of "The Order of the Arrow." I participated in that group's Indian dance team. (I didn't say "Native American" dance team because the term "Native American" hadn't come into usage back then.)

I dressed up in full Indian regalia including a headdress, called a "roach," that I painstakingly made myself. The group traveled all over the greater Los Angeles area performing Indian dances. We even went to real Indian pow-wows where we learned authentic Indian dance steps. My rain dance probably wasn't very good because the only time I ever made less rain would be years later when I was a lawyer in private practice.

Just the same, I never thought for a moment that I was being offensive to anyone or disrespecting their culture.

So yes, you can count me among those who doesn't "get it" when it comes to understanding the nature of the objections of those who take exception to the use of Native American names, artifacts and symbols by athletic teams.

If the objection is that members of one culture are ripping off someone else's culture, then perhaps we ought to have a talk with the folks over at Old Spanish Days who put on Fiesta every year.

It's not that I don't feel that the use of Native American images can never be offensive because in some contexts, they undoubtedly are. But is Carpinteria High's Warrior Chief really the equivalent of the display of a black-faced lawn jockey?

I understand the objection to the portrayal of negative stereotypes, but is all Native American imagery ipso facto stereotypical?

I don't think so. I always felt the sculpture of the tribal chief with a full-feathered war bonnet that is in front of the school on Foothill Road was certainly noble and dignified. I can't say the same of the Cleveland Indians' "Chief Wahoo," which is still in use.

And you'll get no argument from me that a team named "Blackskins," "Whiteskins," or "Redskins" is insensitive.

But does the fact that some of these nicknames and images are in poor taste really mean that we need a Navajo blanket rule prohibiting all of them?

Plus, if the nickname "Warriors" can stay, why does the arrow and feather have to go?

I think the school board in Carpinteria is throwing out the papoose with the bath water.

If it is, maybe the school board shouldn't stop with images but should also turn its attention to eliminating Native American terms and expressions from the language. It will be interesting to see whether anyone on the Board is willing to "spearhead" such an effort the next time they "pow-wow" on this issue.

On the bright side, maybe the school's dress code will be amended to ban "Mohawk" hair cuts.

In fact, perhaps they ought to change the name of the school and the town as well in light of the fact that Carpinteria takes its name, which was bestowed by the Spaniards, from the location where members of the Chumash tribe crafted canoes in their "carpentry" shop.

If you think I'm "off the reservation" on this issue feel free to let me know. I welcome comments (no smoke signals please) from anyone who wishes to enlighten me on this topic.

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In case you missed it, the Sunday edition of Wendy McCaw's News-Press had a front page story on how couples might want to spend those tax rebate checks that will soon be in the mail.

The suggestions; chartering a jet to Vegas, splurging on a stay at Fess Parker's Los Olivos Hotel, having a private (and pricey) dining experience at the Chumash Casino's gourmet restaurant, a trip to the spa at Barcara Resort or, finally, joining Dr. Laura on a four-night cruise from Vancouver to San Diego.

I'm sure it was just a coincidence that all of the places where it was suggested in the article that you might want to spend your rebate check are advertisers or have some type of business tie-in with the News-Press.

If you're keeping score, here's the recap of the news content of yesterday's News-Press: Three "local" stories, Two columnists, (Laura and Peter Howorth) and one publicity photo of lemurs from the Santa Barbara Zoo. There were no local news briefs. There were five wire service stories and six news briefs from the wires. Of course there were lots of big ads.

The "A" section of the Sunday edition of the paper is 16 pages now. It wasn't that long ago it weighed in at 24.