Native American Group Cheers California Ban of “Redskins” Mascot

The state's new law prohibiting local schools from using the controversial term earned applause from a key Native American advocacy group, but several schools in the state aren't keen to change long-standing names of their sports teams.

The name of Washington, DC’s professional football team doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, despite loud protests from Native Americans and from other critics in the political, academic, and sports worlds.

In California, however, the term “redskin” will soon be retired from use by the state’s high school sports teams. Last Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the use of the controversial term as a mascot or team name, beginning with the 2017 season, giving schools more than a year to implement the change.

Even then, as EdSource notes, schools won’t be required to remove the name from existing uniforms and related items. The schools will be allowed to use their equipment until it needs to be replaced, at which time a new name would be used.

Nonetheless, Native American groups—particularly those associated with Change the Mascot, a grassroots movement launched by the Oneida Indian Nation, which has long protested the use of the term and mascot name in the NFL—are cheering on the state while keeping up the pressure on the NFL.

California’s “historic step to build a better future stands in stark contrast to the dogged inaction of Washington’s NFL team, which in the face of all the evidence that this term degrades and offends Native Americans, continues to defend and promote the slur for its own financial gain,” Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter noted in a news release [PDF].

The National Congress of American Indians [PDF], the American Sociological Association, and the American Psychological Association [PDF] have long maintained that the continued use of controversial names and images harm Native Americans.

The California law has drawn complaints from four communities where the mascot name is still used. Ronald V. Seals, superintendent of California’s Chowchilla Union High School District, which has used the term since 1928, noted that proponents of the measure had no local ties to the community.

“You don’t pick a mascot that you don’t respect, dignify, love, honor, all those things,” Seals told television station KCRA. “It’s just taking away something that’s so near and dear to their hearts … and by people who don’t even live here.”

Also Sunday, Brown vetoed a bill that would have banned the use of Confederate figures’ names for public buildings and parks, saying the issue wasn’t one the state should decide.

“Local governments are laboratories of democracy which, under most circumstances, are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom,” he said in his veto message, according to The Los Angeles Times.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the mascot law. (Max Whittaker/Reuters)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!