California Lawmakers Reject Effort to Ban Indian Mascots

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

Sacramento ( - The California Assembly has rejected a proposal to banish Native American mascots from the state's public schools.

Tuesday's 35-29 vote is considered a major defeat for Native American organizations, which have fought for decades against what they call an insensitive and culturally inaccurate depiction of their sacred icons.

The bill needed 12 more votes to advance to the state Senate.

Offered by Democrat Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, the proposal would have prohibited public schools, community colleges and state universities from buying new athletic uniforms and equipment, logos, yearbooks or stationery bearing Native American names or characters.

"This is not a frivolous bill, not something that should be taken lightly," Goldberg said during a two-hour floor debate peppered at times with sarcasm. "It's a bill of simple civil rights."

Some Native Americans say Indian mascots create racial divisions and hostile learning environments for Native American students, but critics decry the move to ban the mascots as an example of political correctness run amok.

"Is it the business of the state of California to take measures to ensure that no group is ever offended by the activities of another group?" asked Republican Assemblyman Dick Dickerson.

Ridding schools -- and professional sports teams -- of Indian mascots has become a basic civil rights issue for the Los Angeles-based Alliance Against Racial Mascots, a coalition of mostly Native American educators.

Although some schools have voluntarily changed their team names and mascots, Goldberg said the decision is often preceded by lengthy and divisive debates, in which Native American students and parents are singled out for blame and harassment.

"Civil rights are not a matter of local control; they are a matter of simple dignity," she said, rebutting arguments that local school boards are better suited to deal with questions of school mascots than the state legislature is.

Not all Indian groups, however, are offended by Indian mascots. Dallas Massey, tribal chairman of the 18,000 White Mountain Apaches, said his tribe is "honored" that one Southern California school uses the Apache name.

"Students are finally respectfully recognizing our people and our culture. Why stop that?" Massey said.

See Earlier Story:
Bill Banning Indian Team Names Get Mixed Reviews (2 May 2002)