SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The California state Senate Education Committee passed
a bill that would ban the use of the term "Redskin" at the state's public
schools. The June 8 hearing was at times tense and emotional.
The bill passed the committee on a party line 7 - 4 vote, with Democrats
favoring the legislation and Republicans opposing.
One of the main witnesses to testify at the meeting was Assemblyman Jackie
Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, the bill's sponsor. Goldberg, who sits on the
Assembly Education Committee, answered questions for her Senate
counterparts on why she felt the bill was necessary.
"It [the term Redskin] is equivalent to other derogatory words," said
Goldberg who equated the term to the most offensive epithets for Asians and
Goldberg also cited the recent move by the National Collegiate Athletic
Association to question the use of American Indian mascots as evidence of a
movement away from the potentially offending mascot names.
Calaveras High School is one of five California public schools that carry
the nickname. Former Calaveras student Derek Bradly equated the term to
representing Japanese as Samurais or Europeans as marauding Vikings.
He also showed a blown-up photo of the football coach at Calaveras High
School adorned in presumably American Indian regalia while wearing a devil
mask. "How is that honoring American Indians?" Bradly questioned.
Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, said there were such cases as the University
of Notre Dame's use of the "Fighting Irish" mascot, which depicted the
Irish as drunk brawlers. Denham said that the community at Notre Dame,
located in South Bend, Ind., had worked gradually to modify the caricature
to be less offensive.
Denham used that as an example of one way that a community could come
together to solve the problem, adding that he felt local school boards
could best handle the issue and that change should take place at that
"I tell people to start at their school board," said Denham.
However, supporters of the bill said that local control was not an
acceptable option. They argued that local passions often run high, and when
they try to effect change at that level they are often shut out.
One witness said that oftentimes when the issue is brought to a school
board, supporters of the Redskin mascot turn out en masse and vote it down.
"Basically, they just vote on it and say 'we win,'" said the unidentified
speaker at the hearing.
Other witnesses opposed to the bill cited a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll
that said around three-quarters of American Indians did not think that
American Indian mascots contributed to discrimination.
Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, said that the poll numbers did not matter
because some do find the term offensive. "It's pejorative in its origin and
offensive in its use," said Torlaklson.
Testifying on behalf of the bill, Calaveras resident Sue Tasso, Cheyenne
and Creek, concurred and said she personally knew how offensive the word
was because she was "called a dirty Redskin" when she was a child.
Tensions and passions were evident during the hearing and members of the
viewing audience were admonished by Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Scott,
D-Pasadena, to not make any overt displays of applause.
Several supporters of the bill also audibly groaned when Sen. Bill Morrow,
R-Oceanside, an opponent of the bill, said his grandmother was "100 percent
Cherokee" and that he was not personally offended by the mascot nickname.
The meeting was so well-attended that more than 100 people had to watch the
proceedings from the hallway of the California state Capitol building. Most
of these were students from Gustine High School, one of about five schools
that would be affected by the legislation. The meeting room itself was
packed with bill supporters, mostly American Indians.
At one point the 100 or so students, many of them clad in their bright red
football jerseys, marched through the hearing room. After the hearing, a
minor verbal altercation apparently occurred between Howard Berger,
principal of Tulare Union High School, and an American Indian man
identified as Eugene Harrod that resulted in questioning by Capitol
security and the California Highway Patrol.
Goldberg has tried to get some form of the bill through since 2002.
Originally her legislation sought to ban all American Indian mascots but
she had to limit it exclusively to the term "Redskin" when it became clear
that the original bill would not pass the Legislature. Her efforts were
pared down to "Redskin" after she consulted with several American Indians
and asked them to choose the most offensive mascot name.
Though the bill passed both houses of the Legislature last year, Gov.
Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it last fall. Goldberg reintroduced it this
The bill, which has already passed the state Assembly, now goes to the
Senate Appropriations Committee.