Time for Redskins' retirement
Board votes 3-2 to change school's mascot
Bucking strong opposition from students, alumni and city residents, the Colusa Unified School District board Tuesday night eked out a 3-2 decision to retire the high school's Redskins mascot.
The decision begins the task of replacing the arrowheads, headdresses and other symbols that have adorned courts, uniforms and signs for more than eight decades.
The divided vote reflected the rifts the mascot issue has opened in the 5,500-person town. Audience members loudly cheered speakers defending the nickname as a revered tradition, while a smaller contingent of Wintun, Maidu and other tribe members passionately attacked it as a mark of oppression and intolerance.
After the two-hour drama played out before a television crew and about 110 spectators, a slim majority chose to drop the tribal name and emblem, causing many audience members to rush out of the district auditorium within seconds in disgust.
"I do not see this issue as a popularity contest," Cindy Steidlmayer, one of the three to support the change, told a testy and often raucous audience.
While understanding how many local memories are tied to past Redskin sports teams, she added, "I am very much in favor of changing the name and respecting people."
An early foe of the Indian-themed symbol, Donna Krause, and Don Bransford sided with Steidlmayer, with Charles Yerxa and Terry Bressler dissenting.
Most of the audience's sentiments were clear in the clothes they sported during the meeting. High-schoolers arrived in Redskins sweatshirts and caps, a half-dozen Redskin baseball uniforms, even a letterman jacket with an Indian profile in feather headdress. They argued against spending an estimated $60,000 to shed a popular symbol, or praised the name as a tribute to Native Americans, not a reproach.
"We can use that money in so many ways, and it could help hundreds of students," said Katie Kittle, one of about 15 Colusa High students massed in the front of the hall.
"I'm not Indian — got a little Italian, actually — but if I were Indian, I'd sure be proud that several thousand people graduated here and were willing to be a Redskin or an Indian or a Brave," said Perry Taylor.
The 1985 Colusa High graduate is president of the Colusa Redskins Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit fundraising group that raises about $25,000 in annual donations for the school's sports programs.
Such statements drew the swift ire of tribe members like Maria Mitchum, a Maidu who called the word "redskin" a justification of racism and oppression of North American tribes.
"I am in my skin 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Mitchum said with fiery indignation. "What about my identity, or the identity of my grandchildren? Is that how you honor your Indians?"
Whatever good intentions might have begotten the Redskins moniker, said Bransford, public opinion is gradually turning against such nicknames and could harm schools trying to defend them.
When Mitchum's niece Jennie Mitchum, a Wintun, described pulling five children out of the district over the mascot, Bransford said that's a powerful argument for a cash-poor school system.
"That right there is about $30,000 a year of lost revenue, and in two years, that's your $60,000, if we had to spend that amount," he told his colleagues.
The board could not agree on introducing a new mascot in 2010-11 or 2011-12, ensuring the Redskins name will represent current Colusa High seniors set to graduate in June.
Earlier this year, a 22-member community board recommended having high schoolers, townsfolk and faculty propose new team names, with board members approving a final choice. Superintendent Larry Yeghoian said that process could last into the 2008-09 school year.
Before backing the retirement of the Redskins name, Bransford predicted the symbol's backers might try to gain their will another way — at the ballot box in November.
"My guess is at the next board election, a lot of people are going to be interested," he said drily.
Colusa High's tribal mascot had endured for more than 80 years, only to face attacks from state lawmakers in this decade.
The Legislature passed bills in 2004 and 2005 seeking to force the school and four others to adopt non-Indian sports symbols, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed both bills, saying school districts should be free to choose their team names.
School board members discussed retiring the Redskins symbol during the 2001-02 school year but never voted on the issue.