There are at least 84 public schools in California that have Native American names as mascots.
Two of them are in Ripon — the Ripon High Indians and the Ripon Elementary School Indians.
The reason this matters is because of the California Racial Mascot Act signed into law in October of 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown and the recent decision by the Cleveland Indians to jettison Chief Wahoo as their mascot.
While the 2015 state law zeroed in exclusively on the four high schools that had the Redskins as their mascot and the Cleveland decision eliminated the caricature and not the mascot of the Indians itself, they are never-the-less warnings Ripon High should heed.
It goes without saying anyone can find offense at anything.
But even so, only someone with their head stuck in the sand can’t see what’s coming.
That doesn’t mean all is lost and that the Ripon Indians eventually will be history.
To take the wind out of their arguments, to address legitimate points made by Native Americans, and to derail the politically correct bandwagon Ripon High has to simply celebrate the roots of its mascot.
A few years back the school took the first step by dialing its official mascot image back to a giant red “R” within a circle with a couple of feathers attached. It is better than the mascot with the Sioux Indians style headdress.
The reason is simple. Assuming the explanation that is highly plausible that the Indians mascot was inspired in part by the Yokut Indian Cucunuchi who was baptized Estanislao at Mission San Jose, the headdress is not a historical fit.
The young Estanislao didn’t like what the invaders were doing to his people so he created a resistance and encouraged others to flee back to the Central Valley. This didn’t sit too well with the Spanish since the resistance included returning the favor of disrupting ways of life by stealing cattle, guns, and horses from missions and ranches.
Estanislao and others ended up near present-day Ripon where he named the river they found there. While Estanislao acted out of concern that the Yokuts and others were being exploited, the Spanish believed they had to be taught a lesson. So in 1829 some 40 men departed the Presido at San Francisco to engage Estanislao and his men. Even with a swivel gun mounted on a boat, the Spanish were defeated. Two months later General Mariano Vallejo returned with not just reinforcements but the willingness to burn the Yokuts out. As a result the soldiers killed Yokuts as they fled to the water to get away from the flames. Estanislao was among the few that escaped.
Later Estanislao repented, was forgiven by mission priests, and became a staunch friend of Captain Charles Weber of Stockton.
Ripon High needs to highlight or celebrate that story.
As for the physical mascot being overwrought caricatures, that is not a sin committed by Ripon High. The biggest issue, assuming Ripon High is celebrating Estanislao and his peers, is the fact California Indians did not wear headdresses per se.
The problem with using human beings as the subject for mascots lies in the snapshot of time they are taken from and the tendency to go with the Hollywood version.
When schools or even pro teams have humanized the 49ers mascot they tend to be white males. The mines during the Gold Rush had more than a healthy sprinkling of Mexicans and Chinese. From that perspective you could contend the 49ers are a racist mascot as well.
While to most of us that would border on the absurd, it underscores how life experiences and roots underscore how people view things.
Instead of erasing history or perceived wrongs such as how mascots depict people wouldn’t it make more sense to use the opportunity to educate?
In a way, using Estanislao as the basis for the Ripon High Indians speaks volumes about protecting heritage, loyalty, standing up to threats to one’s way of life, and ultimately bridging differences to move forward.
Mascots are supposed to be representative of what you want your sports teams, school, company or product to emulate. The Buffloes may be powerful, the Timberwolves fierce, and the Lancers warriors but the Indians add a human dimension.
At the end of the day if Ripon High students do indeed emulate Estanislao wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Instead of assuming the worst, it makes more sense to hold people to the standards mascots are supposed to represent.
We can erase all traces of real and perceived offenses committed by the choice of mascot but we’ll also eliminate opportunities to honor and celebrate the right things.
Chief Wahoo is a distorted caricature, a cartoon. The Ripon Indians when translated into a mascot’s uniform is Great Plains and not California.
Ripon’s teams and students should emulate and celebrate the principles behind Estanislao.
And what better way than to take pro-active steps to protect the mascot Ripon High has proudly hailed for generations by stressing the background of the selection by more accurately portraying it in advance of the next round of political correct wailing.