Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 2, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Native nations win against racist team mascots

By Leslie Feinberg

Tt's a hands-down victory against racism. On Sept. 8, the Los Angeles Board of Education voted unanimously to get rid of names and mascots of school sports teams that are insulting to Native peoples.

The six-to-zero vote was followed by a Native victory drum ceremony. Native groups had fought 17 years to win this ban.

Three Los Angeles high schools and one middle school have one year to replace their current team names and mascots. The board also authorized district funds to pay for paint to remove racist images of Native people and to buy new school uniforms.

Native nations and their supporters are waging similar struggles across the country. Washington's football team and Cleveland's and Atlanta's baseball teams have all come under attack for their racist use of Native caricatures and distortions of culture.

The last time the Atlanta baseball team made the World Series, owner Ted Turner and his wife Jane Fonda were shown on national media performing an offensive "Tomahawk chop."

It was just such insulting behavior that stoked the fire under the demand for the school ban in Los Angeles two years ago. At that time, Native parents presented the school board with a videotape of a game in which white "mascots" dressed up in a cartoon version of Native dress were shown wielding tomahawks and screaming "We're murderous."

After the Sept. 8 victory, Chumash elder Joseph Talaugon of the Committee for Native American Rights explained "Any time you have a school with a mascot like an Indian or warrior there is going to be corresponding behavior with people walking up and down with papier-mƒch‚ masks and that stupid tomahawk thing."

Native groups in Los Angeles pressed for an immediate school board vote on the ban in recent weeks, when attempts by white alumni to derail such an effort came to light.

White opponents of the anti-racist measure showed up in force on Sept. 8 to argue that these insulting images were "cherished traditions."

A local high school athletic director argued that the use of Native images "was done to honor the American Indian."

"We will tell you when you are honoring us," fired back Fern Mathias, one of several Native speakers at the board meeting.

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