Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 27, 2009

Fifteen-year-old Chumash receives death threats in California town

Fifteen-year-old Chumash receives death threats in California town

Backlash to opposing mascots exposes racism in coastal California town

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News
CARPINTERIA, Calif. – A 15-year-old Chumash youth received death threats because he urged his high school to eliminate sports mascots which are degrading and mock Native Americans and their culture.

After those deaths were reported to police in this small coastal town, 90 minutes north of Los Angeles, police took no action and said the death threats were not credible.

Mark Anquoe, Kiowa from Oklahoma and member of the American Indian Movement, said it is inexcusable for police not to take death threats of a student seriously.

Speaking on Red Town Radio, Anquoe said it is surprising with the number of shootings in schools in the United States, such as Colombine, that this death threat was not taken seriously.

“You would think a death threat made to a student would be investigated and disciplinary action would be taken,” Anquoe said of the youth, whose name is not published here because he is a minor.

“The Indian people in this tiny community are vastly outnumbered. You saw this one young person stand up when he felt his people were being dishonored and this was the price that is being paid for speaking up,” Anquoe said.

“It didn’t fall into their legal definition of what a threat is,” said Corine Fairbanks, Lakota and member of the American Indian Movement, living in Santa Barbara near Carpinteria.

Fairbanks said the high school here was one of the last schools in the area to be desegregated. “It has a history of being really resistant to change.”

The area is home to the Chumash people and the federally recognized Santa Ynez and state recognized Chumash near Malibu.

Fairbanks said the issues came to the forefront after the Chumash youth was disturbed by the mascot. When he received an assignment to explore “Be the change you want to see in the world,” he chose to take on the challenge of exposing the degrading images of sports mascots.

After taking the issue to the school board, the "Warriors" mascot was removed. However, what followed revealed that the racism in the United States which is often believed to be confined to pockets, like in the south or in bordertowns around Indian Nations in the west, was manifested in this central coastal California.

A fierce reaction followed from some residents in the city of Carpinteria, joined by some alumni and some of the students. They formed an organization, “Warrior spirit will never die,” and opposed the young man’s efforts and those who supported him.

The virulent opposition even went on to recall a school board member who supported the Chumash youth. The organization followed with intimidation and harassment of the youth, his family and those who allied themselves.

Anquoe said what happened in Carpinteria makes it clear that some people believe that Indians should be involved only as a matter of token diversity, and only so long as they keep quiet. Indians are seen as a “good luck charm,” for a sport’s team.

“As soon as a real flesh and blood Indian stands up and says, ‘I deserve to be treated like a human being.’ You see this huge crazy maniacal backlash from the citizens in this little town.”

Anquoe said the backlash to this one young man standing up in Carpinteria has rallied widespread support from the American Indian Movement and AIM California Indians.

Red Town Radio host Brenda Golden, Muscogee from Oklahoma, sent a message to those who want to honor American Indian culture: Don’t make fun of our culture.

Anquoe said young American Indians in public schools are affected deeply when they see signs that say” Scalp the Indians,” “Kill the Indians,” and watch Indians burned in effigy.

Fairbanks said some in the area attempt to say they are honoring Native Americans with mascot images. She points out, however, that the war bonnet and other symbols are primarily Plains style, while the Chumash in this area have a different culture.

Fairbanks said public schools receive tax dollars to teach the truth. It is time to put away the Hollywood images and mascots, she said.

“It doesn’t honor the Chumash people.”

Further, Anquoe said the backlash has been so serious that Indian people have been forced to move out of town and move out of school districts. Similar situations are happening all over the country, as people put forth the images of “clown Indians.”

Anquoe said one of the reasons that people in the United States put out these ridiculous images is because they do not want to deal with the “uncomfortable truths” of the real history of American Indians in this country.

With the image of mascots revealing this dark side of racism in America, Anquoe said Americans have to face and teach the real history of American Indians.
UPDATE: You can email the Carpinteria School Board at:
Terry Hickey Banks Lou Panizzon Alex Pulido
Leslie Deardorff Beverly Grant
The 1st three board members still seem to be in favor of retaining the imagery; the latter two already voted for removal. It will be revoted on 3-17-09.

Listen to this radio show at Red Town Radio:
Press statements by Mark Anquoe and Corine Fairbanks


Ajijaak said...

Wow, this is absolutely appalling!

How can I show my support for this community? Do you happen to have any of their contact information that you could send me via email? Thanks...

Anonymous said...

You can email the School Board at:

Terry Hickey Banks
Lou Panizzon
Alex Pulido

Leslie Deardorff
Beverly Grant

The 1st 3 board members still seem to be in favor of retaining the imagery; the latter 2 already voted for removal. It will be revoted on 3-17-09.