- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

LOS ANGELES A bill that would ban public schools and colleges from using Indian-themed mascot names, such as Redskins, Braves or Indians, is racing almost unopposed through the California state legislature.
The bill's expected passage in the state Assembly opens the possibility of California becoming the first state to ban such names. The North Carolina State Board of Education is considering a ban, but it would not be a state law.
Many people and organizations believe "the continued use of Native American images and nicknames in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding," wrote Assembly member Jackie Goldberg, Los Angeles Democrat, in the introduction to her bill, "and that all residents of the United States would benefit from the discontinuance of their use."
Mrs. Goldberg didn't return a call for comment.
The bill would specifically prohibit six Indian-related names and allow state education officials to ban other names that might be offensive to different ethnic groups.
Indian groups have been particularly active in California, arguing for decades against the use of Indian names and symbols for mascots. Stanford University, a private institution in the Bay Area, dropped its traditional "Indians" name in 1972. The Los Angeles Unified School District banned Indian-themed mascots in 1997.
"I think it is a step in the right direction, redressing the structural racism in our public schools," said Paula Starr, executive director of the Southern California Indian Center Inc. and a member of the Alliance Against Racial Mascots, a Los Angeles-based organization leading the drive for the ban.
"We are definitely concerned that schools that have imagery such as this may cause our children to not feel good about themselves. This is not political correctness; it's a moral issue and an educational issue," Ms. Starr said.
However, a recent Sports Illustrated poll revealed that a majority of Indians support Indian-themed names and mascots. Asked whether high school and college teams should stop using Indian nicknames, 81 percent of Indian respondents said no. With regard to professional sports, 83 percent of them said teams should not stop using Indian nicknames, mascots, characters and symbols.
California already bans Indian and other ethnic terms on state license plates. Late last year, the state Department of Motor Vehicles ordered retired Washington Redskins player Dale Atkeson to return his custom license plates after learning that the letters spelled "1Redskn."
Mrs. Goldberg's bill would affect almost 200 schools, including 60 high schools, statewide. No public colleges use Indian names in California, but the bill would prevent any existing or new colleges from adopting such mascots.
The state Assembly will likely vote on the bill before the end of May and pass it on to the state Senate.
The bill specifies six names deemed to be offensive: Redskins, Indians, Braves, Chiefs, Apaches, and Comanches. It also bans the use of "any other American Indian tribal name," thus implicitly ruling out names such as Sioux or Seminoles.
Under the bill, the state school board and the California Postsecondary Education Commission would be allowed to jointly add other mascot names to the prohibited list.
That could imperil such non-Indian names as "Arabs," used by a high school in the Imperial Valley, east of Los Angeles.
The two boards could issue individual exceptions to the mascot bans but only for names added later. The six specifically banned names, and any other tribal name, would be permanently retired.
The bill has run into little opposition so far. State Republicans have complained about the cost of the bill but have abstained from committee votes rather than oppose it openly.
The only lawmaker to vote against the bill so far, Assembly member Carol Liu, Pasadena Democrat, says she agrees with the bill generally but wants it to allow the state school board to issue case-by-case exceptions for tribal names. A high school in her district uses "Apaches" as part of a long-standing agreement and student exchange program with the tribe itself.
"Indian mascots have long been used in racist and demeaning ways, and the state should outlaw such discriminatory practices," she said in a written statement, "but the law needs to be flexible enough to accommodate exemplary cases like Arcadia's, where the high school has received tribal approval, is very respectful, and has launched a culturally sensitive educational campaign to teach students about native Americans.
"I cannot support the bill unless it allows schools like Arcadia High School to apply for an exemption," she said.
The use of Indian mascot names has also been a hotly debated issue in Maryland. According to a Maryland State Department of Education report released earlier this year, nearly half of the 26 schools in 14 counties statewide that used either Indian-inspired logos or team names have refused to change their names despite pressure from some Indian state commissioners.
Indian advocates say that even images that are not openly derogatory can be unintentionally offensive.
Eagle feather headdresses, for example, are considered sacred by many tribes, Ms. Starr said, and many Indians find it offensive to see them pictured casually in school logos or being walked over in pictures painted on gym floors.
In response to the criticism of the possible cost, however, Mrs. Goldberg drafted the bill to prohibit the purchase of new items emblazoned with an offensive name only after Jan. 1, 2003.
Teams currently using the name Redskins, therefore, could use their current equipment, logos, and stationery until it wears out and must be replaced.
Only one organization has complained about the bill so far, according to Mrs. Goldberg's staff the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.
The organization's chairman, Mike Heffernan, wrote to say that he had attended a Bay Area high school that used the name Apaches, and that the name was intended to honor the tribe, not mock it.
The bill "is too absolute, too one-sided," the retired high school football coach said last week. "It doesn't leave room for the good use of mascots and doesn't take into consideration tradition."
Mr. Heffernan said he would not support the use of a word such as Redskin, which many Indians see as a slur. But, he said, to ban the use of neutral-sounding words such as Apache and Comanche goes too far.
"It's basically the central government of the state telling local authorities they can't do it," he said. "That should be left up to the local schools to decide."

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