SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A bill that would enact a first of its kind law
banning the use of the word "Redskin" in California public schools is a
step closer to becoming law. By a margin of 22 to 10, with seven
abstentions, the California state Senate voted in favor of the bill on Aug.
This vote marks the furthest that the bill has made it during its
three-year odyssey and has seen its scope whittled from banning all
American Indian mascots and nicknames down to "Redskin" because it was
deemed most offensive to the bill's proponents.
"Native American students suffer some of the worst possible economic
conditions, high suicide rates, low self-esteem and have some of the lowest
achievement scores. Seeing their cultural and religious symbols
caricaturized and mocked to accompany a blatantly offensive term does not
help this," said Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, the bill's author.
The California Assembly rejected the bill in 2002. That bill had only tepid
support from California tribes and tribal groups mainly over the issue of
not exempting tribal schools who use Indian mascots.
Another two-year bill was placed in its stead last year. Despite wider
backing from several tribes and the California Nations Indian Gaming
Association, that bill too failed in its first round in the Assembly last
summer. At the time author Goldberg swore to make another run at it and
said that she would introduce another bill in its place if that one failed.
Despite the bold plea, supporters of the bill had to recognize political
realities this year and Goldberg struck a deal with other lawmakers to
reduce the term to only include the term "Redskins."
In total, only five high schools statewide would be affected by the
legislation. These schools are Calaveras High School in San Andreas,
Chowchilla Union High School, Colusa High School, Gustine High School, and
Tulare Union High School.
If the bill becomes law, each one of these schools would have to
immediately choose another nickname and could no longer purchase school
uniforms with the old logo though there would not be a timetable for
phasing out old uniforms.
Natalie Sites, Cheyenne River Lakota, who works for the Alliance Against
Racial Mascots (ALLARM), a group that has pushed hard for this bill, said
that it was important for mascot opponents to have a victory presumably
because of the failures of the past two years.
However Sites said that she is happy with the Senate vote.
"This is great, we had to have a victory for this movement [against racial mascots]," said Sites.
Opposition came largely from Republicans who were joined by Democratic Sen.
Dean Florez, in whose district sits one of the potentially effected
schools, to oppose the bill. During Senate Education Committee meetings,
opponents of the bill, such as Sen. Jeff Denham raised the issue of local
One of the most outspoken opponents in the Senate was Sen. Roy Ashburn
R-Bakersfield, who reportedly wondered aloud if "Martians" among others,
would be the next group to be offended by mascots.
Though Sen. Asburn was not available for personal comment, his comments
were more sedate in a press release on the vote.
"In Tulare, this mascot is not only representative of the community, it's
been endorsed and approved by representatives of the area's Indian tribes.
These tribal leaders have approved of the use of the Redskins mascot and in
fact are defending its use."
However, supporters of the bill counter that at least one of the tribes
that "endorsed and approved" the term has in reality only taken a neutral
position. In a letter obtained by Indian Country Today, Santa Rosa
Rancheria Chairman Clarence Atwell confirms that his tribe is neutral on
the issue but simultaneously criticizes the term "Redskins."
"I Clarence Atwell ... am aware of the negative connotation of the term
Redskins and would not use the term in any manner or form in reference to
American Indians/Native Americans," wrote Atwell in the letter.
The bill now goes back to the Assembly where they are expected to approve
the Senate amendments, which largely deal with replacing school uniforms.
After that it goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk where he can sign
it, veto it or let it pass into law by not taking action. It is unclear at
this point where Schwarzenegger stands on the issue.