In the time between April 26’s “Community Forum” discussing William S. Hart High School’s mascot and when I am writing this (May 11), Danville School in Vermont and Susquehanna Township High School in Pennsylvania retired their “Indian” mascots. Across the nation, we see school districts taking initiative and committing to the retirement and replacement of their “Indian” mascots soon after holding a discussion with appropriate parties.
How long must this discussion about Hart’s mascot continue? The recent movement to retire Hart’s mascot began nearly a year ago, yet no vote or commitment has been made. While I understand that this mascot is attached to decades of nostalgia, nostalgia never trumps racism.
My name is Julia Estrada and I am a 2020 alumni from Hart High School. Throughout this campaign, I advocated for the retirement and replacement of Hart’s “Indian” mascot at multiple board meetings, at in-person meetings with the school board and through many emails. During my time at Hart, I witnessed students tossing a headdress around at sporting events, teammates making stereotypical “Indian whooping calls” at tennis matches, and “Tribe Leaders” emerging from a teepee during school rallies. Recently, I learned that many of those inappropriate practices were banned in the 1990s, yet they all creeped back. This is proof that so long as the “Indian” mascot remains, it gives a license to the student body to stereotype and reduce an existing group of people down to one image.
During this effort to retire Hart’s mascot, the Hart District school board gave Native American people multiple opportunities to use their voice and speak on the issue. Several Native organizations including the National Congress of American Indians and the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians as well as community members made it clear that they do not feel honored by Hart’s mascot, and that it needs to be removed. While I appreciate the voice given to Native Americans, people are still not listening. The testimonies from Native people that highlight the offensive and racist origins of this mascot are still not enough to get people to listen.
It is frustrating that we (Native Americans) have to convince people that we are offended. Our word is not enough. It is equally as frustrating that people outside of the Native community insist on telling us how we should feel but ignore how we actually feel. Instead of reading the inaccurate columns written by John Boston, read the public statements made by our local tribe and watch the meetings where multiple Native people discuss the hurt and the damage this mascot perpetuates. The decision-making process with the mascot needs to be guided around the voices of Native people and Native people only. The school board must prioritize Native American voices because that is who this mascot is directly negatively impacting. Stop trying to convince Native people to feel otherwise about Hart’s mascot, instead listen and learn the harmful effects that come with it.
Hart High School and the Hart District school board must recognize that there is no room for nuance with racism, and the only way to eliminate all negative impacts from the “Indian” mascot is to commit to completely retiring and replacing it.
Estrada is among several former and current Hart High School students leading the “Retire Hart Mascot” campaign. Learn more about their cause on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or go to their website at https://retirehartmascot.carrd.co