Carolyn Kaster / AP

California schools barred from using ‘Redskins’ as team name or mascot

Gov. Jerry Brown signs California Racial Mascots Act, barring use of a term Native American call a racial epithet

California is now the first state in the nation to prohibit public schools from using the term “redskin” as a team name or mascot.

On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act  barring use of the term Native Americans call a racial epithet. Brown refused to sign a 

California’s statewide legislation received overwhelming support in the legislature and is part of a larger effort involving public school and professional teams. The term, Redskins, was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for a bounty.

Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and National Congress of American Indians Executive Director Jackie Pata, leaders of Change the Mascot, an advocacy group which has been fighting in court to force the Washington Redskins National Football League team to change its name as part of nationwide campaign issued a statement (PDF) saying “This landmark legislation eliminating the R-word in California schools clearly demonstrates that this issue is not going away, and that opposition to the Washington team on this issue is only intensifying. The NFL should act immediately to press the team to change the name.” 

The new law will prohibit public schools from using the term as a school, team name, mascot or nickname beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

The ban would affect only four schools that now use the Redskins name — Calaveras High School and Gustine High School in northern California and Chowchilla High School and Tulare Union High School in the central part of the state.

Sarah Koligian, superintendent of the Tulare Joint Union High School District, last month estimated the cost of changing the mascot throughout the school would be between $700,000 to $1 million.

"We will adhere to the law as it is written," Koligian said in a statement Monday. "Together with our Board of Trustees, school community and our Tulare community we will seek their input to determine our new mascot."

The Chowchilla Union High School District in the Central Valley will seek public comment on a new mascot. Its lone high school, with about 1,000 students, has used a Redskins mascot and logo since 1928 without complaints, Superintendent Ronald V. Seals said.

"You don't pick a mascot that you don't respect, dignify, love, honor, all those things," he said. "It's just taking away something that's so near and dear to their hearts ... and by people who don't even live here."

Democratic Assemblyman Luis Alejo, who authored the bill, represents a district with more Native Americans than in other areas of the state. Less than 1 percent of California’s 38 million people are Native Americans, according to the Census Bureau, but in the counties Alejo represents, their share of the population ranges from 1.8 percent (Santa Clara) to 3.1 percent (Benito).

The bill signed Sunday does not ban mascots that are considered racially insensitive to other racial and ethnic groups.

In 2013, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) protested Coachella Valley High School’s Arabs mascot that featured a hooked nose, long beard and menacing look.

A year later, after several negotiations, the school board voted to change the “Arabs” to the “Mighty Arabs” and redesign the mascot to make it look distinguished rather than barbaric.

But there are still California schools with politically-incorrect names: Indio High School has a Sikh as its mascot and calls its team the Rajahs. Hollywood High School is home of the Sheiks.

Earlier this year, a school district in western New York changed its team name from the Redskins to the Legends. Last year, four schools in the Houston Independent School District replaced Redskins, Indians, Rebels and Warriors mascots with less controversial Texans, Huskies, and Wolf Pack because of complaints that the previous names were racially and culturally insensitive.

Brown vetoed a bill to ban naming public property after Confederate heroes which are considered racist by many people because they honor those who fought for the slave-owning South in the U.S. Civil War.

But Brown, who last year signed a bill outlawing the sale of faux Confedarate currency at the state Capitol gift shop, said choosing names for schools and parks should be local decisions.

“Recently we saw a national movement to remove the Confederate flag from state capitols in the South — a long overdue action,” said Brown, a former mayor. “This bill, however, strikes me as different and an issue quintessentially for local decision-makers.”

Al Jazeera with Reuters

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