SACRAMENTO, Calif. ? What's in a name? Apparently the California State Assembly asked that question May 28 as they rejected a bill that would have banned the use of American Indian mascot names.
The bill, known as AB 2115, lost by a 35 to 29 margin. The main opposition came from a host of conservative Republicans though several Democrats voted against it as well. Immediately following the defeat, the bill's author Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, asked for a reconsideration, or a re-vote of the bill later in the week.
If passed this measure would have made California the first state in the nation officially to ban American Indian mascots. Two other states - New York and Minnesota - have adopted a policy of asking schools to get rid of mascots without making it legally binding.
The debate over American Indian mascots goes back at least to the late 1960s. The initial battles resulted in many schools changing their nicknames to something less incendiary, most notably Stanford University, which went from "Indian" to "Cardinal" red in 1972.
Ilona Turner, who works in Goldberg's office, said that the Assemblywoman is hurriedly trying to drum up support from her fellow legislators before the bill is reconsidered. According to the rules of the California State Assembly all bills currently on the floor must be out by May 31.
Turner also partially dispelled media rumors of immediate amendments to the bill.
"It is possible that the Assembly Member (Goldberg) is discussing with other members the addition of future amendments, but given the brief time frame for the reconsideration of this bill no amendments will be added this week," Turner said.
One of the members to vote against the bill was Assemblyman Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks. This vote surprised some since Cox had recently been a leading participant in several Republican caucuses with American Indian tribes around the state.
"We hope that it (Cox's nay vote) will not effect any relationship with the tribes, and we will continue to have an open door to meet with any constituency that has concerns," said Cox aide Peter DiMarco. The aide said that his boss voted against the bill because he felt that it was a local issue for individual school districts and not a matter for the state to mandate.
Cindy LaMarr, a board member of the National Indian Education Association, disputed Cox's position. She argued that the profusion of perceived insensitive Indian mascot names still in existence indicated that eradication of the controversial mascots has not worked at the local level.
LaMarr said the central focus of the issue should be on the children. "It is the children that I am most concerned about, when they are forced to go to school and see their heritage degraded like this."
When asked about other ethnic mascots, such as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or Pleasant Valley High School Vikings, LaMarr said that each ethnic group should work out these issues on its own. She added that AB 2115 recently had been amended to make it specific only to American Indians.
The problem with mascots is not always so black and white. Some feel it is a matter of degree and situation.
Larry Myers, who works for the California State Native American Heritage Commission, said that there is not a uniform view of American Indian mascots in Indian country. Myers said he is not issuing personal opinions but rather general impressions of the issue. Myers said that some American Indian people take pride in certain nicknames and feel that they are being respected and honored when a team is named, for example, the "Indians."
However, a name such as "Redskin" is more often perceived to be racist, though Myers argued that the mascot logo of the Washington Redskins football team is far more dignified than the cartoonish, stereotyped Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.
Goldberg's office says that if the bill does not pass this week, it is likely that it will be reintroduced in some form in the next legislative round.