Carpinteria Board Votes to Retain Native American Images As Part of School Regalia

Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2009

After a year of bitter conflict, Carpinteria’s school board voted Tuesday night to retain almost all the Native American imagery that dots the high school campus where residents have cheered on the Warriors since 1928.

The board’s special meeting drew hundreds of residents to the school gym, whose outer wall is decorated with a mural of a headress-clad chief surrounded by student athletes. Board members, one of whom survived a recall attempt over the issue, decided in a 3-2 vote to keep the mural and most other Native American likenesses and symbols.

Soon to be gone are the glowering red caricatures on athletic patches and a cartoon-like Indian head profile on floor mats. But the board rejected recommendations by an advisory committee to remove the sculpture of a Plains Indian chief in the parking lot, or to purge the district’s logo of a canoe and arrowheads, or to change or eliminate other symbols.

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One after another, residents trooped to the microphone Tuesday night to say that the array of images were meant to honor native Americans, not demean them. While other embattled schools have mascots clad in Indian regalia, it has been many years since a similar figure made an appearance at a Carpinteria High game or other event.

A 15-member advisory committee appointed by the board last year was stacked with anti-imagery activists, some speakers complained.

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On the other side were people supporting Eli Cordero, a student who triggered the controversy with a complaint to the board last year. Cordero, a 16-year-old junior who is active in Chumash groups, told the board that the images were offensive because they made inappropriate use of native American likenesses and ceremonial items.

“I’ve looked into the eyes of the stone Indian and seen the degradation of my ancestors,” he said. “I’m not here to ask you to remove the images; I’m here to tell you to do the right thing.”

Faviana Hirsch, a member of the board’s Native American Imagery Committee, suggested the cause may go to “the newly invigorated U.S. Department of Justice under Barack Obama, who has called for change in this country–if some of you people in Carpinteria haven’t noticed.”

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At issue were 13 separate images that appear on stickers, patches, T-shirts, and elsewhere on campus. The Warriors’ name was not in dispute because it appeared ethnically neutral to people who were upset by the images, including Eli Cordero, representatives of the American Indian Movement and other groups.

California legislators have passed measures banning native American mascots at schools, but the bills have twice been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said such questions should be decided locally.

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