Bill would ban California schools from using ‘Redskins’

Members of the Chowchilla High School Marching Band display their “Redskin” banner in 2009. Chowchilla would have to stop using Redskins if the Legislature approves a ban of the name. Lisa James Merced Sun-Star file
Members of the Chowchilla High School Marching Band display their “Redskin” banner in 2009. Chowchilla would have to stop using Redskins if the Legislature approves a ban of the name. Lisa James Merced Sun-Star file

By Shawn Jansen, Merced Sun-Star

Public schools in California would have to stop using the term “Redskins” for their sports teams or mascot if a bill is approved by state legislators.

Assembly Bill 30, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would prohibit schools from using the name beginning Jan. 1, 2017. If the legislation becomes law, California would become the first state to ban the use of Redskins for public schools.

The Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media and the Education Committee have approved the bill. It now heads to the Appropriations Committee before it can go before the full Assembly and then the Senate.

The four high schools in California that still use Redskins as their mascot are Chowchilla in Madera County, Gustine in Merced County, Calaveras in Calaveras County and Tulare Western in Tulare County.

“We’ve been down this road since, I believe, 1996,” said Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell. “This bill seems to have a better chance to pass.

“I don’t pretend to think some people aren’t offended by the use of Redskins. We understand that and if we have to make a change, we will. Our community doesn’t want it, our Native American community doesn’t want it, but if we have to, we’ll make the change,” Campbell said.

If forced to make the change, Chowchilla and Gustine won’t be as willing.

“We don’t call those offended by the term Redskins, Redskins. We call ourselves Redskins,” said Chowchilla Union High School District Superintendent Ron Seals. “We use the term as a sense of pride, respect and honor. We don’t use it in a derogatory way.

“It’s been our school mascot since the (1920s). In the fall, we’re going to celebrate our 100-year celebration. We are a one-high school town. We’re a small community with lots of alumni and generations of Redskins,” Seals said.

To help offset cost issues, the California Racial Mascots Act would allow schools to continue using uniforms and other items bearing the term Redskins that were purchased before Jan. 1, 2017, if the school selects a new mascot and doesn’t buy new uniforms with the old nickname.

Schools would be able to replace up to 20 percent of uniforms with the old name until Jan. 1, 2019.

The costs of phasing out the name go far beyond uniforms for teams, cheerleaders and bands. There are gyms, scoreboards and other things on campus that would have to be changed.

“We did a study of the costs, and it will cost at least $110,000, and perhaps more,” Gustine Unified School District Superintendent Ronald Estes wrote in an e-mail. “I see this as a local control issue; district school boards should be able to make this type of decision based on local concerns and needs.”

Campbell estimates it would cost roughly $55,000 to $65,000 for Calaveras to eliminate the term Redskins from the school. Anticipating that eventually it would have to change, the school has been using Calaveras more than Redskins on projects around campus.

Estes, Gustine Principal John Petrone and the five GUSD board members signed a letter sent to Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

In the letter, they write: “We are certainly aware of the sensitivity behind the utilization of the Redskin name. We have heard from Native Americans who have expressed opinions on both sides of the argument. What we have and continue to state emphatically is that at no time in the nearly 80 years we have used the Redskin moniker have we disparaged Native Americans, or portrayed our mascot in a derogatory fashion.”

This isn’t the first time these schools have faced the possibility of making these changes. The use of Redskins as a mascot has been a heated debate, including the NFL’s Washington Redskins. This is the third time state lawmakers have tried to ban the use of Native American terms as nicknames or mascots.

In 2002, a bill calling for the ban of nicknames such as Indians, Braves and Chiefs was introduced but failed. In 2004, Jackie Goldberg, who was then an assemblywoman from Los Angeles, narrowed the bill to ban just Redskins. The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There is obviously a lack of respect when we allow teams to brand themselves with racial slurs,” Alejo told the Los Angeles Times. “The R-word was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for bounty, and in today’s society it has become widely recognized as a racial slur.”

Like Estes, Seals feels those decisions should be made at the local level. He said school officials won’t have any discussions about a possible new nickname if and when a law is passed.

“I’m not traveling to Watsonville and calling the legislator a Redskin,” Seals said. “I’m not sitting in my district and telling him what he should do. So for him to sit in his district and tell me what to do in mine doesn’t sit well with me.”

AB 52, Native American bill, passes Senate

Major changes to legislation co-authored by Alejo

By Phillip Molnar, Monterey Herald

SACRAMENTO >> Native American legislation seemingly opposed by thousands was significantly altered before it was passed by the California Senate on Wednesday.

AB 52, a bill co-authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, is designed to give Native American tribes more power in the state’s environmental laws, but it galvanized non-federally recognized tribes not included in the bill.

Non-federally recognized tribes pestered lawmakers for months and started an online petition which gathered 8,386 signatures.

In the amended version, both federally and non-federally recognized tribes are included in the definition of a tribe and non-federally recognized tribes were included in the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

“Although there are still a few sections where we have some reservations, overall, AB 52 in its final draft reflects the two big changes our coalition requested,” said Angela Mooney D’Arcy, executive director of the Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples.

Alejo spokesman John de los Angeles said the assemblyman passed on concerns some Native Americans had with the bill, especially from his own district, to its main author, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles.

Efforts to reach Gatto were unsuccessful.

The bill passed in the Senate 35-0. It must now go back to the Assembly because of the many amendments in the Senate. After that, it can go to Gov. Jerry Brown.

After the changes were announced, signers of the petition on expressed delight.

“Congratulations to all the CA tribes,” wrote Carolyn Kualii. “This is a move in the right direction!”

The bill still faces major opposition from business groups because they fear it will result in more CEQA litigation because of claims of tribal heritage at development sites.

The Sacramento Bee editorial board put AB 52 on its “three bills for the governor to kill” list because of classifications of “sacred places” and “cultural resources.”

“The definition is left so open-ended it would add a new layer of anxiety to what is already a horror movie of an environmental review process,” it wrote.

There are 110 federally recognized tribes in California and 78 tribal communities petitioning for recognition, including three in Monterey County, according to the Judicial Council of California.

Louise Miranda Ramirez, tribal chairwoman of the local Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation, said she was still concerned about some of the language which allows lead agencies in some cases to “consider” mitigation measures (rather than “select,” as it said before.).

Ultimately, she said she was pleased with the changes but questioned why the bill “was so broken in the first place.”

Phillip Molnar can be reached at 831-726-4361.