Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
As a Native woman and Social Worker, part of my job includes visiting schools to check in with students.
On Friday, August 18, 2017, I was blown away when I walked into the administrative office of a high school in Ripon and stared down a tall wooden statue of a stereotypical Indian in a headdress. Hanging off of the arm of the wooden statue, was a red collared school shirt with an Indian mascot logo (long nosed, side profile, with a headdress) with “tribe pride” written below and encircled with the name of the high school and a price tag. The school was selling the shirts for students to wear. As I stated, all I could think was that this negative portrayal of my people held no pride and respect at all for the original people of California.
An office lady greeted me by complimenting my hand-beaded Native barrette, one of my favorites, that I bought at a Powwow near Stockton. A part of me wanted to jump up and down and yell, “Hold on people, I’m an Indian. I’m Hupa, Yurok and Karuk. I’m standing right in front of you and I don’t look like that wooden statue. I am a human being; not a caricature.” I wanted to stop the students rushing in and out of the office and explain that there was so much more to know about Native culture then the school’s “tribe pride.” A teacher walked in with a new student and I overheard her say, “What did you think of Powwow? We have those on Fridays. We have a lot of school spirit here.” I felt slightly ill as I imagined a room full of students celebrating their school by attending a “powwow” of fake war whoops and chants.
Did any of them know what a Powwow was? Did they know what brave Native leaders risked and sacrificed when they held Powwows originally despite being illegal in America at first after WWII because of fear of the Ghost dance and because the Government is not a fan of Natives congregating?
Did the school know that they stood on Valley Miwok land? Did they realize what happened to the Miwoks at the hands of Spaniards and white settlers? Did they know that after being hunted, scalped, enslaved, forced to build missions, sold into the sex trade, and pushed onto a reservation, the Government did not honor their treaty with the Miwoks? Did they realize the Valley Miwok reservation was a half hour away from the school?
From the school website, I could see the school mascot dressed up in an Indian Halloween costume and headdress, complete with dyed feathers. The school’s mission was to promote the success of every student. I thought about how a Valley Miwok student would feel surrounded by fake portrayals of their culture, people fervently and loyally defending a fake image of a Native American, without any understanding of the Valley Miwok’s dances, their creation stories, songs handed down through generations, their cultural values and traditional ceremonies.
What did the students think about Native Americans? Did they assume they were all dead or that their mascot was somehow honoring Native people?
What if the Indian mascot were replaced by an African slave, a Pope, a Christian Priest, a Rabbi with a yamaka, an American soldier and a student dressed up as the school mascot by putting on blackface, or wearing a gaudy gold cross, wearing a plastic yamaka or wearing camo and an upside down American flag? If it is not ok to disrespect others’ cultures, why is it ok to make fun of Native American culture?
In 2017, less than a year from when I stood at Standing Rock as a water protector, and watched America’s history repeat itself, I cannot stand by any longer. I cannot visit a school with an Indians mascot and not vocalize the blatant disrespect and ignorance for Native people that the mascot represents. Making a mockery of our Native culture only spreads ignorance to the youth and holds back the future of everyone. What we do to one affects us all. We are all connected. I ask that the Board of Supervisors in San Joaquin County address this matter with the help of the Mayor of Ripon and that the State’s portion and the Ripon Unified School District’s portion of the school’s funding be tied to whether the high school in Ripon changes the school’s mascot.