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Updated 3:10pm - Apr 16, 2014
Updated 3:46pm - Apr 15, 2014

Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Sensitive issue of race stirred again

Sensitive issue of race stirred again

By Laura Brown

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte High School's abandoned mascot is stirring up controversy again.

This time, an image resembling one that caused tension within the school system five years ago caught some students and faculty off guard when it appeared in a newly released yearbook.

Five students in the Native American Club found the outdated line drawing a stereotypical portrayal of tribal people and voiced their complaints to the principal.

The exaggerated Hollywood-style interpretation depicts a scantily clad muscular Plains Indian, arms crossed over chest, wearing an eagle-feather headdress.

"It was shocking that the old mascot was being used," said Loren Bommelyn, club advisor.

Indian mascots are still commonplace around the country, and in California, more than 120 schools continue to use them.

The California State Assembly will vote on AB 858, the California Racial Mascots Act today. The legislation is geared toward removing racially discriminatory school and team mascots.

"Native Americans are the only group of living people used as mascots," said Andre Cramblit, operations director of Northern California Indian Development Council.

Del Norte High School Principal Jan Moorehouse said the recent yearbook issue has been resolved. After meeting with the offended students, Moorehouse agreed to reimburse them the $60 they paid for the annuals.

Moorehouse said the subject is still a painful one for students and staff who remember the controversy over Del Norte High School's wooden mascot, which was taken down in the late 1990s. The figure, blackened by fire, is now housed at the historical society.

The mascot was at the center of an emotional debate that lasted nine months. A committee decided the icon, which had been in place for at least 20 years, could be considered disrespectful to people and their religion.

While the redwood carving was eventually removed from the school, the name ‘Warriors' remained but is no longer tied to American Indians.

Carl Woods, who is serving in his second year as yearbook advisor, said deadlines and a limited supply of photographs meant that the student staff relied heavily on clip art. It was an innocent mistake made by a student struggling to get the yearbook ready for print in less than three months, said Woods.

Woods said he contacted Bommelyn by phone beforehand, telling him of the yearbook staff's intention to run the pen-and-ink drawing.

"I wasn't concerned about using it, because I figured he would have contacted me if he had any problems," said Woods.

Bommelyn said he doesn't recall being told about the use of the Plains Indian caricature. He says he remembers telling Woods of some Tolowa basketry patterns that would make suitable art. He said he never saw the images used until yearbooks were being passed around by students in the classroom.

Bommelyn said he is satisfied with the way the administration handled the incident.

In a statement, Moorehouse compares this year's grievances with those from students who find their name misspelled or the placement of an embarrassing photo caption.

"In spite of best efforts, not everyone is pleased with the product built by the yearbook staff of any school in any year," reads a statement from Moorehouse.

Moorehouse suggested including a brief history of the mascot controversy within student handbooks each year to remind them of this delicate issue.

Native American children make up 13 percent of the school system in Del Norte County.

Jim McQuillen, head of the American Indian Education Program and principal of Margaret Keating School, says this is a time of transition, and education is the key to moving beyond biased views.

"I think we all need ongoing education of those that are culturally different, and that includes American Indians," he said. "There continues to be a need for education, not just for students, but staff, too.

This August, a three-day workshop, "Local Connections," will be conducted for teachers. The course will bring to light sensitive issues for local tribes, and includes a visit to ancient village sites.

 


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