Tensions were high at the William S. Hart Union High School District Governing Board voted Wednesday to retire William S. Hart High School’s “Indian” mascot no later than June 30, 2025.
A motion introduced by governing board assistant clerk Bob Jensen passed with a 4-1 vote, effectively retiring the Hart High School “Indian” mascot in four years time and adding a name of honor to the Hart High School constitution, honoring the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, the descendants of the first inhabitants of the Santa Clarita Valley.
Over 40 people signed up to deliver public comments and share their thoughts on the action item. The board increased the public comment portion of the meeting from 20 minutes to 40 minutes, and decreased each speaker’s time from two minutes down to one minute in order to hear from as many community members as possible.
The public comment portion of the meeting was dysfunctional and unruly, with members of the audience consistently yelling over those delivering public comments. Board President Dr. Cherise Moore interrupted the public comments multiple times to remind audience members to remain respectful.
“Either we listen, or you need to leave,” Moore said. “If you cannot listen, you need to leave. There will not be any insults. I apologize for anyone who has felt insulted. There will not be any further insults. I’m going to ask you to leave and I will call the meeting and adjourn it if we cannot get this under control. This is not okay at all, in any way.”
Public comments were nearly evenly split between those pushing for the removal and those pushing for the retainment of the Hart High School mascot.
“William S. Hart was known and respected among indigenous people for listening to them. He hired native actors, he had them choose their own wardrobe, he fought the government on their behalf,” said resident Sandra Correll. “And a lot of people would use that to say, ‘We should keep the mascot.’ Except that’s not what he would have done. Because he would listen to us, and we are saying to get rid of it.”
“This is what Hart High has — they have a banner that says ‘Indians.’ They have a beautiful logo that has two feathers attached to it. We are not talking about mascots here, we’re talking about a moniker called ‘Indians.’ It is not an insult to use the word ‘Indians,’” said resident Steve Petzold, wearing a Hart Indians shirt as he had worn the night before during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “There’s the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. You’ve got the Chumash Indian tribe… All of them incorporate the word ‘Indians.’ ‘Indians’ is not a pejorative.”
The board discussed their decision after hearing from more than half of the speakers during the public comments. Governing board clerk Joe Messina spoke first.
“To those of you who are on the conservative side, don’t play in to this,” he said. “There’s no reason for you to be noisy. Let everybody be heard and you’ll get your point across, I promise. First of all, I’d like to say, how is wiping something out, which is what we seem to be doing the last few years, make something altogether better? How is wiping out your history, wiping them out from the school, all of a sudden is going to make everything better… Where is the training? Where is the education? We should be having classes on this, and if it’s about the indigenous people, then maybe they should be coming in to Hart High School to teach about their tribe, teach about their traditions.”
Messina then addressed comments made by Saugus Union School District board member and Santa Clarita City Council candidate David Barlavi, who insisted with regards to the mascot and “Indian” iconography that if one child is hurting, change is needed.
Messina continued, “Mr. Barlavi said, ‘If one child is hurt.’ I’ve just got to tell you, I’ve known you for a long time and so have some of the people in this room and it’s not a personal attack, I wish you felt that same way about Christian kids and conservative kids.”
After hearing thoughts from Messina and board members Linda Storli and James Webb – both of whom were in favor of changing the mascot – Jensen proposed a four-part motion.
The motion included adding the name of honor, as well as consideration by the Hart High School student body and staff on either having a mural painted providing education sharing the history of Native Americans, establishing a Native American Cultural Center on campus or adding a component to the Hart High School student handbook that discusses Native American history and culture. The motion then proposed to honorably retire the “Indian” mascot. The last part of the motion would be to have Hart students and site staff decide on a new mascot.
The motion passed with cheers and applause erupting throughout the room. While many community members embraced and shared tears of joy. Some displeased residents stormed out yelling, “Shame on you,” to each board member.
Julia Estrada, a creator of the Retire Hart Mascot campaign, was present at the meeting. She said she was proud.
“I am exhausted that this took over a year to accomplish, but so unbelievably proud of myself and the community that rallied with us to retire Hart’s mascot,” she said. “This is a huge win for the native community, and I am so thankful for everyone – especially the Fernandeño Tataviam and National Congress of American Indians – who contributed to this success. The board did what had to be done and I am glad they helped propel this much needed discussion in the SCV community.”
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