Friday, 14 June 2024

Kelseyville school board votes down return to 'Indian' mascot

KELSEYVILLE – The Indian was reaffirmed as a mascot of the past at a school board meeting here Tuesday night after a two-hour session of audience input, which followed four hours of input last month.


It was an evening notable for its tears, nervous speeches, passionate pleading and … individual open-mindedness.


After board members added their half-hour of comment regarding the use of a logo and name the native American community called “disrespectful,” Kelseyville Unified School Board Trustee Gary Olsen made a motion “not to return to the Indian mascot.”


The motion was approved 4-1 with board member Chris Irwin alone voting, surprisingly, against the status quo, citing a loyalty to the taxpayers who elected him. “I feel we have better things we should be talking about,” he said, adding, “I’m not trying to be a rebel, I really don’t care what the mascot is.”


About 100 people showed up for the continued agenda item that brought voices of students, elders and everyone in between. Last month’s meeting drew almost four hours’ comment on the subject before it was continued.


The town doctor, Kirk Andrus, was the first to step up to the podium Tuesday night. He said he has lived in Kelseyville since 1979 and that he was graduated from Dartmouth in 1972 as a Dartmouth “Indian.”


“A large part of who I am,” he said, “is based on the fact that I went to Dartmouth.”


Andrus said it is not about his being an “Indian,” but about the institution, its curriculum, culture and his education.


“I think of myself as a Dartmouth graduate,” he said, “not an Indian.”


Andrus, a former school board trustee himself, commented that he felt “it is incumbent on us to listen to the local native Americans.”


The doctor continued, “When my grandfather sold a blanket that was infected with small pox … that’s germ warfare. But let’s not play the blame game. Use of an Indian mascot distorts and trivializes a native culture.”


Marcie Cadora said she learned that the Tomales “Braves” compromised by giving up their logo but not their name and she proposed the same. She said she telephoned Clayton Duncan, the man who originally asked the board to stop using the mascot, and she said she also called several board members.


“No one seemed interested in a compromise,” she said.


Cadora repeated, as she had at last month’s meeting, that the term “Indian” is used in pride, that it is not meant to be derogatory.


Kim Olsen said she grew up near the Big Valley Rancheria and rode the bus with many native American children and she never saw racism. Olsen suggested adopting a logo designed by local tribes and an annual general assembly at school to educate all children about native culture and history.


“A compromise would make the job of the board much easier,” she said.


Bob Prather said he was a 1945 graduate of Kelseyville High School and an “Indian.” He also said he had seven sons and numerous grandchildren go through the schools.


“I understand why many would like to keep the Indian mascot,” he said. “I also understand that if I were an Indian, I would not want others parading around with my image.”


Prather said it’s about citizenship and understanding others’ feelings. Referring to a petition circulated among “Indian” mascot supporters reported to have documented 700 signatures, Prather commented, “There are a lot of names on the petition … but there are a lot of names that are not on the petition.”


Jacque Santana – whose daughter is a freshman “Knight” – said that change is hard. “Maybe I didn’t like it, but it is time to move forward,” she said. “Personally I think the ‘Knight’ is a really lame mascot.”


But what is “blowing my mind,” she continued, “is that they let this issue divide them.”


Lisa Mammina, who repeatedly emphasized that she is from Ukiah, broke the tension with humor by saying she was confused about who were Indians and who were not. She motioned to the crowd on the left, many of whom wore sweatshirts reading “Always an Indian,” and said, “I think it’s really cool they (motioning to the Indians on the right) are not asking for their land back, they’re asking for their name back.”


“It hurts them,” she said simply.


Several students spoke in favor of returning to the former mascot, stating they felt school spirit had fallen. “Now it’s like walking into a retirement home,” one girl stated, adding that learning about the Pomos would be “cool, awesome ... let’s do that.”


Phillip Murphy said he has a daughter in Kelseyville High School who “loves and respects her teachers” and feels good about her school. The other daughter graduated last year and doesn’t feel the same way, he said.


The older daughter, Murphy explained, is enrolled in an ethnic studies class at Sacramento State University. “We are portrayed as an example of modern day racism,” Murphy said.


When the class was asked by the professor whether anyone was familiar with the issue, “she was ashamed to raise her hand,” Murphy said, “and say, ‘Yeah, I went to that school.’


“I have a simple question,” Murphy went on, “Do you value the trust, respect ... and cooperation of your neighbors more than a name on a jersey? I hope you do.”


Murphy concluded, “I want to see it get put behind us tonight ... permanently.”


With “Indian” mascot supporters on the left and native Americans and their supporters on the right, applause following each speaker was clearly divided.


And then, two hours into the session, Kerry Roper stood up — from the left side of the aisle.


First she identified herself as a hairdresser, pointing out her son-in-law, Chris Irwin, seated among the board trustees. She also mentioned that she had many family members in the room, including her husband, who had just spoken in favor of returning to the “Indian” mascot.


“Tonight’s meeting completely changed my mind,” she said. “We are using something that belongs to someone else.”


“I would be very upset if every salon in the county changed their name to ‘Vintage Hair Salon,’” she said, referring to her own business. “I have to agree with the native Americans that we should not be called the Indians.”


Roper had the last word.


Board Chairman Peter Quartarolo broke the astonished silence with humor. “I think there’s an extra bed at our house.”


After the other board members explained their positions, Quartarolo opened a book from the district’s own “Hate in Schools” curriculum.


“Right here on page three,” he said, “it recommends we get rid of ethnic mascots.”


Quartarolo said that he has had a lot of friends remind him how important the 'Indian” mascot is to them.


“My ultimate responsibility is to the children of this district,” he said. “You read all these papers ... there’s all this evidence it teaches bigotry. That I can’t tolerate.”


E-mail Maile Field at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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