Amidst a cacophony of cheers and honking horns Friday afternoon, dozens of Carpinteria High school students and alumni crowded onto the corners of Linden and Carpinteria Avenues to protest the school board’s recent decision to remove all Native American images and icons from school property.
The controversy began when one Carpinteria High student and his family, who are Native American, brought the issue before the school board claiming the imagery was offensive. Since the vote, alumni like Mike Damron have been campaigning for a recall of the school board’s decision. Insisting the protests have “no animosity towards the family” Damron, who served on the school board from 1996 to 2004, helped organize alumni and students from both Caripinteria Middle and High School to show support for the schools’ traditions. Now serving as the booster club president, he is calling for the resignation of three of the school board members who voted to remove the emblems. There are two kinds of people in Caripinteria, according to Damron, “those who live in Carpinteria and Carpinterians.” Damron expressed concerns that two of the school board members had less than 10 years in Carpinteria and thus were not yet “part of the fabric of the community.”
Others such as Carpinteria High junior Emily Moorehouse expressed the same frustration with the school board, accusing the board of having made up its mind before the students could present their case. Moorehouse helped coordinate the students in their protest and says they plan to continue protesting every week until the board considers another vote. Mark Jenkins, a senior, said the mood at school has been intense this last week. “Everyone was together on this cause we’re all Warriors,” he explained. He said the group plans to go the Chumash chief to ask for his assistance and support in the matter. Eric Stein, senior and captain of the football team, said the teachers and city council are fully behind the students who want to keep the emblem. “What makes one person’s opinion worth more than the rest of the town?” he asked.
“Honoring our ancestors” is a key element of the dispute, said Richard Cervantes, a Chumash Indian and a 1989 graduate of Carpinteria High. Brandishing a tattoo of Chief Joseph on one arm and a tattoo of a Hopi Kachina doll on the other, Cervantes is no stranger to Native American imagery. “They’re not just taking away an emblem; they’re taking away our tradition,” he said.
Waving signs and sporting school colors like letterman jackets or even vintage band uniforms, the crowd was a mix of all ages and backgrounds. But not all the signs were in support of keeping the emblem. “Respect People” read the sign held by Gayle Haider and her daughter Claire, an alumnus. “You can have school pride and still be inclusive of other people,” said Gayle. Standing a few feet away from the protest, the Haiders said they felt some balance should be represented. “Just because they’re loud doesn’t make them right,” said Claire.