Wisps of white sage smoke drifted into the cool Carpinteria air as dozens of Native American advocates chanted and swayed to a booming drum beat. The crowd had gathered in front of the Carpinteria High School auditorium late Tuesday night, March 17, disappointed by the 3-to-2 school board vote that will remove only two of the 14 Indian-style images adorning various parts of campus.
Minutes before, hundreds of people were in attendance at the much-anticipated Carpinteria Unified School District hearing that climaxed a year of clashing passions: school spirit versus calls for cultural sensitivity. At issue were the high school’s Warrior mascot images murals, tile art, sports emblems, and letterhead logo. People on one side of the argument challenged the images as racist stereotypes. Nor should sacred items, such as feathers, be used as part of play activities, they said.
Other members of the Carpinteria community defended the mascot icons as honoring Chumash tradition and the spirit of American Indian warriors in U.S. history. As lifelong Carpinterians, they took pride in the Warrior name and imagery associated with the school’s sports teams.
In the end, it was a pro-mascot board majority that brought the controversy to a close. Chair Terry Hickey Banks, with Alex Pulido and Lou Panizzon, wanted to keep most of the images; Beverly Grant and Leslie Deardorff wanted the images removed entirely and a different mascot adopted. (Deardorff, however, was willing to support the compromise recommendations of the 15-member Native American Imagery Committee appointed by the previous board to evaluate the images.)
The upshot is that two images a woodcut caricature of an Indian used as an athletic department patch, and floor mats depicting Indian profiles will be removed. The head sculpture on the entrance marquee will remain, as will the campus’s murals and logos, and the bust and the framed print in the library.
Standing outside the auditorium, Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement gave a pep talk to an assembly that had perked up with the post-meeting prayer and drumming session. “This was a victory for us tonight,” she said. “Some of us didn’t expect anything.”
The mascot-out campaign started last spring when Eli Cordero, a high school student of Chumash heritage, asked the school board to get rid of the Indian mascot. Last year’s school board voted to keep the Warrior name, but get rid of the images.
But a new school board was seated in November, following an election dominated by the mascot issue. Jeff Moorhouse, an ardent supporter of the Warrior images, referred to the election in his testimony Tuesday night, saying the results reflected the community’s love of the mascot. “This community spoke on November 4th,” he said.
The election did prove pivotal. It was the newly-seated Panizzon who made the motion to remove only two images when the Native American Imagery Committee had recommended removing four, modifying two, and keeping four. Three other images were discussed by the committee, but no agreement could be reached on their fate. The images and committee recommendations can be found at the school district website, cusd.net.
Panizzon, a former principal and coach at Carpinteria High, rejected the remaining recommendations on the basis that some committee members were absent or abstained during the votes. He refused to go along with trustee Deardorff’s last-ditch attempt to implement a committee suggestion that had gotten significant support: a 10-to-3 vote (with two members absent).
Deardorff tried to amend Panizzon’s motion by asking that the Glenna Hartman mural (a giant Indian face with various athletes around it) be modified. Committee members recommended the face be painted over and replaced with more athletes. Panizzon launched into a heated recitation about the artist Hartman and how she created the mural in question, as well as other works of art, as part of a 1977 public works project.
The pro-mascot part of the audience, which was seated on one side of the auditorium, erupted in cheers and applause at Panizzon’s unflappable stand. This faction clearly out-numbered and out-cheered the anti-mascot crowd despite Chair Hickey Banks’s numerous pleas that the audience not clap or yell out. The Warrior Spirit supporters were also unable to stifle loud groaning when trustee Grant read passages from the U.S. Constitution as part of her comments.
For Eli Cordero and his supporters, the campaign has momentum no matter the outcome on Tuesday. They are looking to the state legislature to finally pass a law banning Native American sports symbols. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed such a ban. Cordero, age 16, said after the vote, “It just reaffirmed our solidarity, our unity, and our strength. This is not over.”