Calaveras High School Starts #Redskins4Life Campaign with Support of Miwok Tribe After California Mascot Ban, By Michelle Shining ElkTweet
One of the four California schools affected by Gov. Brown’s new law forbidding the use of the racial slur “redskins,” is Calaveras High School in San Andreas, CA. The slur means pride to Calaveras County; it is tradition — it has gone unchallenged for 110 years — and the local MiWok tribe supports the name.
“Kill the Redskins.” “Scalp the Redskins.” Send them on the Trail of Tears!”
These are all chants heard at sporting events coming from teams opposing the Calaveras High School Redskins. To the majority of people in Indian country — that is racist and hurtful, and studies have proven it is psychologically damaging.
However, neither the law nor the racism associated with the slurs seems to mean much to Calaveras High School officials or the football team. The Calaveras HS Football Facebook page announced today the sale of “Redskins4Life” t-shirts and hoodies stating,
“Let’s show Gov. Brown and who support taking away our mascot [sic] that we will ALWAYS be a Redskin no matter what! They can’t take it out of our hearts!”
What’s more, they have enacted the hash tag #Redskins4Life.
The Calaveras High School football coach Jason Weatherby is all torn up about the change, not for moral reasons, of course not – it is it all about the almighty dollar to him.
“I would say somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000,” said football coach Jason Weatherby. “Three sets of uniforms for our football guys at the freshman, JV, and varsity level at $50 apiece, so $10,000 per set. That’s $30,000 right there without even looking at anything else.”
Here is the deal for those who don’t understand. Changing the mascot is not about economics, fan popularity or lack of racial intent. It is about the consequences for American Indians, specifically our youth, the come as a direct result of mascots.
The education system in this country rarely or accurately, if at all, teaches American Indian history in U.S. History classes. When they do, they do not teach the truth or get to the heart of the matter that was and is the reality for American Indian and Alaska Natives in this country. Lest be the truth about President Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.
There is little understanding of what the Indian Removal Act was and meant. No, it did not mean “move them from here to over there,” it meant “kill them like rats in an alley.” Decrease the population with the hope of ridding this country of us entirely. Lost on most is that it meant there were bounties on the heads of the American Indian people – on the “red-skins.”
Thus, I am never surprised when a student or young person does not understand why the name is so painful and needs to be changed. The Millennial Generation aka “Generation Me,” tend only to skim the surface of current world problems. That and studies show that only about 35% of the Millennials take an active interest in issues that directly affect their community and environment.
I am not surprised that a Calaveras High School student does not understand the negative and painful impact their mascot has on many and of no interest to him is changing it.
“I’m indian [sic],” said [Calaveras] junior football player Joseph Celli. “My dad is part of a tribe. My tribe specifically is fine with the name. They think it’s honoring that a school would name themselves after them.”
But what is truly disappointing is that tribal leaders do not understand or care about the negative impact the name makes on our community as a whole. When their colonized mindset takes over, and they fail to acknowledge that portrayals have consequences, and it has been proven the mascot negatively affects the psyche Indian people, especially the young.
It is a dangerous mindset with a trickle down effect that influences the minds of youth who do not know any better.
“The Calaveras Miwok Indians agree, writing, “Our county, our citizens both native and non native are very proud of our logo. It was heartbreaking to hear the chief head will be removed.”
Eric Stegman of the Center for American Progress co-authored a report “Missing the Point: The Real Impact of Mascots on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth.” Stegman is the director of field outreach and advocacy for the center’s Poverty to Prosperity program.
“Missing the Point” explores mental health research that shows how the presence of these mascots in schools contributes to lower self-esteem for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students.
It states that the consequences are real and damaging. So much so, it caused the American Psychological Association to develop a resolution that cited key findings collected from a broad scope of psychological and sociological research. The APA found that the continued use of these mascots:
“Undermines the understanding of American Indian people by non-Native people and contributes to an unwelcome and often hostile learning environment.”
Stating further that:
“Team names and mascots in K-12 schools undermine the educational experience of all students, particularly those with little or no contact with indigenous and American Indians and Alaska Native people.”
The resolution also cited a 2001 statement from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that explains this issue:
“The stereotyping of any racial, ethnic, religious or other groups when promoted by our own public educational institutions, teach all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society. Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people. Children at the elementary and secondary level usually have no choice about which school they attend.”
What’s more, the leading researcher in this area Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona has found that:
“American Indian mascots are harmful not only because they are often negative, but because they remind American Indians of the limited ways in which others see themselves.”
Dr. Fryberg and her colleagues conducted four studies of American Indian and Alaska Native high school and college students and their reaction to stereotypical mascots. What they found was a consistent, negative reaction to these images, and concluded that:
“American Indian mascots have harmful psychological consequences for the group that is caricaturized by the mascots. This is true whether the American Indian mascot was represented by a caricature, a European American dressed as an American Indian, or an American Indian figure, and whether the mascot represented an American Indian university, a mainstream university, or professional sports team.
Problematic for our Indian community is the adage that a person’s “perception is the reality.” So much weight placed on a perception and so much derived from perception, that it dictates what “is known.” Even if what is known is not verified by the way “things are.”
The dominant culture is predominantly members of the majority. It has been the majority who has historically propagated misinformation, skewed perspectives and inappropriate depictions of who we are as American Indian people — mascots included. It is what gets internalized by those who do not know any better or are too lazy to understand the truth, or just don’t care.
What is lost or not realized is that we are contemporary people with contemporary lives, challenges, and needs. We are contemporary people who hold unique spiritual values – that we are not symbols, logos, or images.
I am grateful to Gov. Brown for enacting the mascot law in the State of California – he is a trailblazer on this front — it is time people stop seeing us as one-dimensional.
As more people gain a multidimensional and realistic understanding of who we are as American Indian people — our people, culture, traditions gain strength. That in turn makes us stronger as individuals, so our community becomes stronger as we move forward together in this world.
This is the beginning — it is only the beginning.
Michelle Hall Shining Elk is a member of the Colville Tribes of the Colville Indian Reservation. An advocate for equality of American Indians in film and television and activist against ethnic fraud and cultural appropriation in film and television she currently resides in the Los Angeles area. Michelle is the owner-operator of Michelle Shining Elk Media + Marketing, Michelle Shining Elk Casting; and Shining Elk Entertainment + Production Company.