Laura Isensee / Houston Public Media

Houston school district abandons mascots offensive to Native Americans

The district will spend thousands of dollars to replace team uniforms and logos tribes said were insensitive

Four schools in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) debuted new mascots on Tuesday, replacing previous ones that had sparked complaints of being offensive to Native American groups.

The school athletic teams will be called the Lamar High School Texans, Hamilton Middle School Huskies, Westbury High School Huskies and Welch Middle School Wolf Pack, replacing mascot names Redskins, Indians, Rebels and Warriors, respectively. 

HISD, one of the largest school districts in the United States, made the decision to change the mascot names last year at a school board meeting after several Native Americans said the references were racially and culturally insensitive.

Schools across the country have been re-examining team names and mascots amid ongoing controversy surrounding those of professional sports teams, particularly the National Football League’s Washington Redskins.

The Oneida tribe in New York State is behind a campaign that wants the NFL to force the Redskins franchise to change its team name — which many Native Americans consider a racial slur — and mascot.

In an interview with Al Jazeera last year, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the Redskins’ name was "always intended to be positive," and that the league had no intentions of forcing the football franchise to change its name or mascot.

Team owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to change either one.

The tribe has also been strongly opposed to the use of the name "redskins" in schools, and has followed the HISD mascot controversy closely.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the school district will spend nearly $50,000 on new uniforms for fall sports, and additional costs are expected for spring uniforms and the replacement of old mascot names and images on various facilities.

Houston is not the only city facing issues over school mascots. California’s Coachella Valley High School drew fierce criticism from the Arab-American community in November over its longstanding team name, Coachella Valley Arabs, and mascot, an angry-looking Arab man. While the school district expressed willingness to work with Arab-American groups to reach an amicable solution to the controversy, the name and mascot remain.

Following a series of similar controversies, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year making it tougher to force schools to change their mascots. The new law requires at least 10 percent of a school district's membership to sign a complaint to be reviewed by the state's Department of Public Instruction before a mascot change can be considered.

The law also places the burden to prove that a team name or mascot promotes discrimination on those who file the complaint.

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