Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Up One Side of the Totem Pole and Down the Other

My post Monday about the Carpinteria School Board's decision to drop Native American symbols with respect to athletic teams and school spirit at Carpinteria High didn't result in anyone calling for my scalp. Well, almost no one.

Photo courtesy gallery

I received 15 responses via e-mail. Nine readers agreed with me, four disagreed and two fell into the category of being neutral.

Joe Cantrell, who taught at Carp High for over 30 years, made the observation that while Carpinteria is a small town it is also very complex.

Joe pointed out how problematic removing two specific murals containing Native American images from the school's physical plant will be:

One is the large mural that has survived for three decades on the outside wall of the gym. The center piece is a Carpinteria High School Warrior, but a number of athletes are also pictured and each one is recognizable, a real student who competed at the school at that time. Many old-timers can stand in front of the mural and name each of them. If they (and the Warrior) are painted over, a lot of locals will take this as an emotional loss and an insult to community history. (Remember that people in Carpinteria argued for 30 years about whether or not to move the football field to the "new" high school campus!)

Another high profile piece is the hand-painted tile picture of the Warrior outside the cafeteria. It was student art (ironically, created by a student who with a strong, outspoken commitment to individual civil rights) and was a senior class gift to the school.

Other readers who sided with me made the point that political correctness was being taken too far, and that the monetary cost of removing the symbols couldn't be justified.

As for those who disagreed several said basically that if Native Americans objected to the imagery then that should be that and the symbols should be removed, no questions asked.

I'm not ready to give a group "veto power" without an explanation of what is objectionable about the images.

A well articulated explanation of why the symbols are objectionable came from Sandy Starkey who pointed out that it trivializes a tragic situation, the exploitation of Chumash labor to construct the Catholic missions. She went on to say:

There's a history of offensive images of native Americans, going back to the Disney "Peter Pan" movie that portrayed the natives as savages singing "what makes the red man red," with their "chief" in full Native American costume. That symbol--a Native American caricature in full headdress--reminds many of that painful stereotyping.

Loretta Redd had an op-ed piece in yesterday's Daily Sound arguing that the Warrior Mascot ought to be changed.

Over at they have an on-line poll where the vote is 57% to 40% in favor of getting rid of the mascot and imagery.

A couple of people inquired as to whether the school district was legally required to get rid of the imagery. The answer is no.

Back in 2001, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement calling for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools. But the Commission recognized that in light of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under the First Amendment, they could not require schools or institutions to drop Native American nicknames or imagery.

Well, since this is my blog, I'll take the last word on this.

I'm not convinced that keeping the Native American symbols at the school is an outrage. Yes, Native Americans have been done a lot of dirt in the name of "settling" this country, yet a lot of us who went through Boy Scouts or Y Indian Guides as we grew up learned valuable lessons about outdoorsmanship, self-reliance, leadership and yes, respect for others, through the vehicle of "Indian" lore. Like anything else, Native American symbols and culture can be used respectfully or they can be desecrated. I don't think Carpinteria High's use of the mascot or symbols falls into the latter category.

By the way, aren't Westmont College's athletic teams called the "Warriors?"

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The Daily Sound started delivering to homes yesterday.

It's guaranteed to land ever so lightly and quietly on your door step every morning.

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Congratulations to the Santa Barbara Independent, which was nominated for an "EPpy Award," presented by Editor & Publisher magazine, as having one of the best websites affiliated with a weekly paper. Winners will be announced in Las Vegas on May 15.