To the disappointment of American Indian activists and the relief of many Carpinterians, the Carpinteria school board Tuesday night approved a watered-down version of a committee’s recommendation to remove the Native American imagery from the high school campus. The 3-2 vote came after a divisive, yearlong battle over the school’s use of its Warriors mascot.
In front of a packed gymnasium — and after hours of racially charged testimony — the board voted to remove the scowling caricature of an Indian that is used on an athletic patch for lettermen’s jackets. Also to be banished are floor mats depicting the profile of an Indian in the Carpinteria High office. Voting in favor of the motion were Terry Hickey Banks, Lou Panizzon and Alex Pulido; against were Leslie Deardorff and Beverly Grant.
Implicit in the board’s decision was its rejection of all other recommendations made by the citizen Native American Imagery committee. These included the removal of a mural in the school, as well as the removal of the school’s trademark Indian head sculpture on the marquee at its front entrance. The board also said no to the committee’s recommendation to modify the Carpinteria Unified School District logo by removing the Indian head, canoe and arrowheads.
“Approximately 70 percent of the students at Carpinteria High School are of Mexican descent — we have a lot of Indian blood,” Pulido said before the vote. “I have a lot of pride in the Warrior culture.”
The school has had its Indian mascot since 1928. The uproar began rather quietly about a year ago, when student Eli Cordero, who is part Chumash, asked the board to eliminate the emblems, although not the Warriors name.
The matter was put on the school board agenda the next month, in April, and the board voted for the ban on the same day. Then the firestorm ignited. During a meeting in May, Carpinterians packed the gymnasium, and the board appeared to backpedal, deciding to appoint a committee to decide which images to keep, and which ones to scrap. Tuesday night marked the culmination of that process.
By all accounts, emotions ran high Tuesday night. The mood on both sides was passionate and, for the most part, uncompromising. All told, roughly 300 people crammed into the gymnasium, with supporters of the emblems occupying one half, and opponents on the other.
At one point, a verbal spat broke out in the entrance of the gymnasium and threatened to descend into chaos, with many people in the audience getting out of their chairs and heading toward the commotion. But sheriff’s deputies quickly restored order.
Supporters of the imagery blasted opponents for being outsiders; indeed, some came to the meeting from as far away as New Mexico.
“This is a local issue, but outside agitators have tried to turn it into a media spectacle,” said Langdon Nevins.
Opponents assailed the logo purists as being racially insensitive and behind the times, pointing out, for instance, that the NCAA now prohibits college teams with Native American mascots or emblems from hosting tournaments.
Michael Cordero, Eli’s father, said his son has endured death threats.
“Will the Carpinteria school district bring its students into the 21st century, or will it validate the view many have of Carpinteria as racist?” he asked. “The world — yes, the outside world — is watching.”
Students spoke on both sides of the issue. One student, named Emily, read a poem she wrote in support of the mascot.
“The Warriors are racist? They voted for it to go. We rallied together, and told them no. … A year has passed, so much has occurred. I ask you now, when will our voice be heard?”
Eli Cordero also addressed the board.
“I feel anger, I feel hurt,” he said. “All of the images need to go.” After he spoke, he sat down in the audience and sobbed.
Some speakers tried to bridge the divide. One of them was Damon Moore, a 1990 graduate of Carpinteria High. Moore, who is black, played on the 1989 championship Warriors football team and said it was among the most meaningful experiences of his life. As a result, he holds the name dear.
“It means as much to me as my heritage as a black man,” he said. “It means as much to me as my name.”
Yet, he said, after studying the matter thoroughly, he said he can understand the Native American perspective, too, adding that he no longer is as steadfast in his support of the emblems.
But Moore still took issue with how some have branded Carpinterians as racist, saying the community is quick to rally around any one of its members in need.
“Please do not call us racists, because we resent it and reject it,” he said.
On the board, Grant was most outspoken against the imagery.
“The Native Americans are still recovering from what we have done to them,” she said. “The mascot itself is disrespectful.”
Banks said she regretted the way the matter was brought before the board so hastily last year, and took partial responsibility for it.
“We are here tonight due to our own failure to lead as a board,” she said.
After the meeting, Art Garcia, a member of the Pueblo tribe who traveled to Carpinteria from New Mexico for the event, said he was disappointed with the board’s decision, but hopeful.
“It just goes to show how we still are looked at as subhuman — as a mascot,” he said. “It’s like anything, it’s slow change. Slavery was looked at as a necessity for the industrialization of the United States. Also, women’s rights — slow change.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.