Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 5:25 pm | Fair 77º


Student Essay: Battle Over Warrior Mascot Has a History

The more serious issue is not whether the Carpinteria High School mascot is offensive, but the rampant harassment over it

In talking to people about the issue of the Carpinteria High School mascot and images, I have heard many things, one of which has been almost universal. It is not so much the lack of knowledge of the issue itself, but about what happened and what is still happening in Carpinteria.

Let me start with a time line of events that took place in Carpinteria involving this issue.

March 2008: Eli Cordero creates a petition stating that Carpinteria High’s mascot and related images are offensive and stereotypical, and should be removed; about 50 people sign the petition.

April 22: The Carpinteria School Board votes 3-2 to remove all offensive imagery from Carpinteria High School.

The next day: Carpinteria High School students stage a walkout in protest of the decision, complete with plastic, brightly colored feathers, drums and fake war paint, designed to look like traditional native regalia. According to a school board member, they were not punished the same way students were punished during a previous immigration rights walkout.

That same month: Jan Timbrook, who works as a cultural anthropologist for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, examines and debunks the Chumash Legend of Chief Chismahoo, a Carpinteria High School tale, as a “complete fallacy found nowhere in any record of Chumash oral history or storytelling.”

May: “Warrior Spirit Never Dies” posters appear in the windows of cars and local businesses, featuring red-skinned, scowling “Indian” caricatures, not unlike those of the Washington Redskins mascot.

May 12: A large school board meeting is held in the Carpinteria High School gymnasium. The school board votes to keep the images and form a committee to look at them one by one.

Spring: WSND launches a recall effort on Beverly Grant, a school board member who voted for the imagery. It fails.

Summer: The school board launches its Native American Imagery Committee, which includes people from both sides, and is criticized by both sides. Some WSND people view it as biased; natives and anti-mascot supporters see it as a delaying tactic to hold off any change until the coming elections.

August: A local Chumash leader named Julie Tumamait, who was a member of the governor’s commission regarding California Indian issues, asks to be placed on the committee. She isn’t, and it seems none or very little of her information on the Indian mascots she gave to the moderator was shared with the committee.

Sept. 9: Cordero wins a Civil Rights Hero Award form the Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Oct. 1: A local gas station owner who is a supporter of WSD puts a quarter-page ad in the Coastal View News in which, without parental permission, he uses Cordero’s name and claims the community needs to “get involved” in the next school board meeting.

November: Amarita Salm, a school board member who opposes the imagery, does not run for school board again and is replaced by a former physical education coach and principal. Many believe that he was elected solely because of his pro-mascot stance.

November: Two local native leaders form a coalition of local and regional social justice groups called C.A.R.E., or Coalition Against Racism in Education, in support of removing the images.

November: A complaint is filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The ORC launches an investigation that is still ongoing.

Jan. 27, 2009: A civil rights march is held in Carpinteria with nearly 100 people participating. An array of social justice groups attend and speak before the school board at the end of the march.

March 17: The Carpinteria School Board votes to get rid of a few of the many images that the Native American Imagery Committee recommended be removed.

Now, that seems to be a conclusive time line, doesn’t it? Not quite. This time line is incomplete, because it doesn’t include the various accounts of racism, intimidation and harassment. I have a few logged accounts I have collected from other people that I will share with you. Let it be said, however, that there may well be more unreported accounts of harassment in Carpinteria because of this issue. For example, I didn’t report the various times people in cars would drive by and yell “Indian!” when I walked the streets of Carpinteria this past year.

May 2, 2008: A student of Carpinteria threatens to kill Cordero. He doesn’t make the threat to Cordero directly; another student overhears it and reports it to school authorities. School authorities claim to “have trouble finding” the student for more than a day, even with the information provided by the student’s friend. After this, school authorities finally call the police on the principal’s orders. When they find the student who made the death threat, school authorities question him and claim he was “not a credible threat,” and then tell him to stay away from Cordero. This is a violation of the school handbook, which says the punishment for the threat of harm is expulsion. School officials tell the Cordero family that taking any action against the student “would only make things worse” in regards to Cordero’s cause.

May 12, 2008: At the school board meeting, many of the speakers voicing opposition of the mascot are drowned out by boos, hisses and shouts coming from the pro-mascot side of the stadium. At one point, the entire pro-mascot side of the stadium stands up and turn their backs on the school board member who was speaking in favor of removing the mascot and related imagery. A former board member openly describes Cordero’s class schedule, which is a possible violation of the Education Code Student Privacy laws. A native military veteran who is about to be deployed to Afghanistan, his son, who is a minor, and another native are called names, including “pinche indios” (translation: f****** Indians) when leaving the meeting, which is still in session.

May 2008: Cordero’s younger sister is harassed by other students, who tell her, among other things, “I hope your brother goes to jail” and “Warrior spirit never dies!” Her mother takes her out of the school because of the harassment.

May 2008: Cordero’s older brother’s name is written on a “save the mascot” petition without his consent. When he finds out, he is angered, because he is in full support of Cordero. Other signatures on the petition include dead people, names signed twice and, yes, Pocahontas.

May 2008: A group called “Unified Carpinterians” is formed in support of Cordero and to educate Carpinteria about stereotypes and issues of Native justice. Its fliers are removed or marked on as “anti-warrior” by unknown people.

May 2008: While putting up fliers for a local showing of the documentary In Whose Honor? a native woman is harassed in a parking lot. She is told, “You will always be mascots.” Later, people come to her house and tell her to “stay out of it.” She moves out of town because of the harassment.

June 2008: At least two school board members don’t attend graduation because they’re told there may be a threat of violence. The district doesn’t provide security for the board members.

June 2008: During the drive to recall Amarita Salm, a relative of a school board member who voted to retain the imagery is overheard at a petition signing drive saying, “f*** Indians.”

July 2008: Cordero’s mother attends a local church fiesta and is surrounded by people who say, “Warrior spirit never dies” and expletives.

September 2008: A group of students sets up a Web site dedicated to threatening to kill the son of a school board member who voted to remove the imagery. The student is switched to another district.

Nov. 14, 2008: Cordero accidentally leaves his school play script in the lunchroom. When he returns to retrieve it, he finds “I hope you die,” “F*** you” and “U R a *****” written on the cover.

This is more than just an issue over whether Native American mascots are offensive. This is directed harassment of Native Americans and their supporters by a local hate group called “Warrior Spirit Never Dies” in a little California town just south of Santa Barbara.

— Nigel Robles is a freshman at San Roque High School.

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