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Mascot remains at high school

CARPINTERIA, Calif. – A school board voted March 17 to keep most of the Native American mascot imagery of a high school, including a large bust of an Indian wearing a feathered headdress affixed to the school’s marquee in the parking lot.

The vote came down after a yearlong and acrimonious sequence of events rooted in the controversy at Carpinteria High School in Santa Barbara County after a student of Indian ancestry complained the images were offensive.

The school board voted 3-2 to ban two of some 26 Native American images the high school campus and its apparel bears despite a committee’s recommendation to ban or modify most of the images. The Native American Indian Imagery Committee was established to sort out the controversy.

“It has been common practice in our district to appoint citizen advisory committees when there is a serious issue that needs to be explored and resolved. It is unusual in our history to completely reject the work of these committees,” said Carpinteria Unified School District Board Member Leslie Deardorff. She voted against the decision and had previously voted to ban all imagery. Indian Country Today made attempts to reach all board members for comment using district-assigned e-mails, but only Deardorff responded.

The decision brought resentment from some area Indians.

“This vote was a political vote, not a vote for the education of our youth,” said Marcus Lopez, tribal elder and co-chair of the Barbareno Chumash Council. He said continued use of Indian caricatures distorts history.


Photo courtesy Carpinteria Unified School District The Carpinteria Unified School Board of Education banned floor mats at the Carpinteria High School with the school’s mascot, an Indian wearing a feathered headdress.

The images the 15-member committee recommended banning included the parking lot bust, a mural, floor mats with profiles of an Indian and athletic patches with caricatures. Only the latter two were banned. The board also rejected the committee’s recommendation to modify a mural by replacing an image of an Indian “head” with athletes. The school’s logo was recommended to be stripped of its Indian “head,” canoe and arrowheads.

The vote caps an emotional debate in Carpinteria, a town of about 14,000.

The board had previously voted in April 2008 to ban all the imagery but retained the “Warrior” name of the school’s mascot in a narrow vote of 3-2. That vote stemmed from complaints of a 15-year-old Chumash sophomore. He claimed the images were used in an inappropriate manner, stereotyped Native Americans and permission for their use had not been obtained from Native Americans, according to district documents.

But the ban was met with a huge community outcry, Deardorff said. Carpinteria High’s alumni and parent booster clubs that support sports teams protested. They claimed the images honor not degrade Native Americans, preserves their culture and is a source of pride for the school, according to district documents. Support from some Native families also

bolstered the pro-mascot advocates,” Lopez said. Many of them are of multi-ethnic origin, of Chumash and Mexican ancestry, and erroneously identified with the mascots, he said.

They wanted to grab onto something that was part of their culture. But the mascot is not their culture, that’s the ironic thing.”

The school board then created the committee after the protests to decide which, if any, images to retain. Deardorff said one of the trustees that favored banning all the images decided to forgo a chance to be re-elected because she was “disgusted with the community’s ignorance” and “their flagrant disrespect and contempt towards the three trustees who voted for removal.” Another trustee who voted for the ban survived a recall effort over the issue, Deardorff said.

Local newspapers reported a high and emotional turnout from both sides at the meeting where the vote took place. Police stood nearby.

The battle of the mascot has been long fought throughout the country. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest, banned all Native American mascots in 1997, a decision upheld by the federal court a year later. Here in Carpinteria, a coastal town 10 miles away from tourist destination Santa Barbara, the battle may be over. But wounds may linger. Lopez said a radio show March 24 was scheduled to readdress the issue. And at least one trustee who favored banning the mascot still holds resentment.

“As a board member, I am embarrassed by my fellow trustees’ behavior, but I can only sit back now and realize that it is in a higher power’s hand,” Deardorff wrote. “I have no control over the ignorance and ‘old boy’ mentality that seems to be prevalent within our community.”