Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights
February 4, 2009
California: Native Americans face violence over mascot removal
American Indian Movement - West
American Indian Movement – Santa Barbara
Native Americans Face Violence and Intimidation Over Mascot Removal in Carpinteria
CARPINTERIA, California - The small town of Carpinteria, California is the latest battleground in Native Americans’ fight against racism. The controversy over a supposedly “harmless” high school sports mascot has alienated the Native American population of Carpinteria, who have come to fear violent reprisals from the non-Native community.
The Carpinteria “Warriors” mascot is the standard Indian chief stereotype, complete with generic plains-style war bonnet and stoic gaze. The school logo consists of a spear with dangling feathers; a visual symbol also associated with plains Indian cultures. Last spring, 15 year old Chumash youth Eli Cordero voiced his objections to the use of this stereotypical imagery by Carpinteria High School. On April 22nd, 2008, he brought his concerns before the school board which then voted to retire the use of all Native American imagery.
Since the April 2008 decision, many citizens of Carpinteria have waged a campaign of terror against those who supported the school board’s decision, as well as the school board itself. A local businessman placed a quarter-page ad in the local newspaper explicitly naming and targeting Eli Cordero, the young student who originally brought the issue to the school board. Since that time, the 15 year old has received death threats and his family has been harassed. Death threats were also made against the child of a school board member who voted to remove the imagery. Local police began escorting school board members to and from school board meetings. Some citizens of Carpinteria shouted racial epithets at John Orendorff, a Native American Army Reserve colonel who spoke at a school board meeting in favor of removing the racist imagery.
Some Native American people have moved out of Carpinteria due to the climate of fear and anti-Indian sentiment. Ashleigh Brown, until recently a resident of Carpinteria, spoke of her decision to move away, “There is a community member who refused to do our printing for our cultural awareness event. Her son…started telling my roommate to keep my nose out of Carpinteria issues, or else I might regret it…So after other townspeople found out where I lived I decided to move out of Carpinteria.”
An organization called “Recall CUSD - Warrior Spirit Never Dies” (http://www.recallcusd.org), has waged a largely successful campaign to discredit and oust the school board members who supported the anti-mascot measure. Having successfully installed pro-mascot sympathizers on the school board, there is now a petition to rescind the earlier decision and keep the racist imagery at the public high school. On January 27th, local Native American people organized a protest to voice their objection to the measure, and were met with verbal abuse by drivers and passers-by. One protestor was hit with a rock thrown by an adult man shouting obscenities. This occurred despite the presence of a representative of the federal justice department, who was sent from Los Angeles to ensure proper police conduct and the safety of the demonstrators. Many local Native Americans, while supporting the anti-mascot effort, refused to join the protest, fearing violent reprisals by the townspeople.
The next school board meeting in Carpinteria is scheduled for February 10th. At this meeting the board will hear from a committee which was formed to assess each specific Native American image on display at Carpinteria High School. The school board is then expected to adjourn until February 24th, when the vote to rescind the previous ruling will be held. Protests and counter-protests are expected at both board meetings.