Tulare High School Fights for 'Redskins' Mascot Amid Controversy

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

The Redskins mascot roots for Tulare Union along with fans and cheerleaders, performing the "tomahawk chop" gesture. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

It’s homecoming at Tulare Union and the stadium is packed. Students and parents make rhythmic tomahawk-chopping gestures with their right arms as they watch the football players tackle each other on a brightly lit field.

There’s a life-size teepee in the end zone. And every year, young women try out to be the team’s mascot -- the Redskins princess.

“We have to make up our dance, our own fight song, spirit dance, and we have to learn a couple cheers,” says this year’s mascot, Connie Prado.

Prado wears moccasins, a tan prairie dress with a burgundy fringe, and a long feathered headdress. She roots with the cheerleaders and marches with the band.

But if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the California Racial Mascots Act, this 90-year tradition of being the Tulare Union Redskins will end.

Sponsored

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved AB30, which prevents schools from using the term "Redskins" for teams or mascots. The bill is on Brown’s desk now. He has until Oct. 11 to sign or veto it.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, a Democrat from Watsonville. Only four schools in California use Redskins as a team name; three of them are in the Central Valley.

Redskins Mascot Connie Prado designed her Redskins costume.
Redskins Mascot Connie Prado designed her costume. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

Students at Tulare Union say they see nothing negative about the name.

“Why change it now when just a few people are, like, feeling hurt by it when a lot of us respect it and want to stand for it and actually like the name,” says color guard Myka Bravo.

But there are plenty of people who want the bill to pass. They say the term perpetuates racist stereotypes of Native Americans.

“It turns my stomach. I don’t appreciate any of what they do,” says Susan Weece, a tribal elder for the Wukchumni Council, in nearby Visalia.

She says she feels sorry for the students because they don’t understand the history of the term. “They’re not being taught that it’s not right,” she says. “They’re being taught that it’s an honorable thing, and it’s not.”

Native American scalps that sold for a bounty were called redskins, she says. “The term just reminds me of all of the atrocities that were put upon us by other people.”

But Tulare Union does have a letter of support from the local Tule River Tribal Council. In it, the council acknowledges the name’s negative history but says Tulare Union wears it as a sign of pride.

“Although we will never forget what has happened to us in the past, we do not wish to dwell on it either,” the letter states.

Tulare Union Principal Michelle Nunley says she brought the letter when she went to Sacramento with some students to lobby against the bill.

“People feel very passionate about it, and the fact that we’re all Redskins,” says Nunley. “We don’t want to lose that opportunity to remain Redskins here at Tulare Union.”

The Tulare Union color guard.
The Tulare Union color guard. (Alice Daniel/KQED)

School Board member Craig Hamilton says the state shouldn’t decide whether a local school can use the mascot. “It’s a local issue,” he says. “And there’s enough evidence to say it’s a respectful term, at least in our community.”

There’s also the issue of money. Hamilton says it could cost close to $1 million to change the name on the band and athletic uniforms, let alone the buildings.

“We have paintings on buildings, we have stained glass, there’s just a lot of things that add up,” Hamilton says.

But if Brown signs the bill, Hamilton says, the school will find a way to follow the law.