The William S. Hart Union High School District governing board voted Wednesday to retire the Hart High School Indian mascot by June 30, 2025, citing a need to move away from a race-based symbol that has been associated with the school since Jan. 10, 1946.
The 4-1 vote in favor of retiring the mascot came after a number of local residents and stakeholders voiced their impassioned opinions on the change, with proponents of keeping the mascot arguing that its removal would be erasing history, while those arguing for a change called the mascot offensive and misrepresentative.
The terms of the agreement, with only board member Joe Messina voting against them, are as follows:
- Amend the Hart High School Constitution to add a name of honor. The name of honor is the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians
- The second part is to have the Hart High School student body and site staff consider: a) Having a mural painted in the new plaza area on campus that provides education about and shares the history of Native Americans, including the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, as well as to have a plaque in the plaza honoring all Native American Indians. b) Establish a Native American cultural center on campus that would be named after William S. Hart, since he had a deep admiration, sincere respect and true friendship for all Native American Indians. c) Add a component to the Hart High Student handbook that discusses the history and importance of Native American Indian respect, culture and traditions at Hart High School.
- Honorably retire Indian from the Hart High School Constitution as the mascot, with a transition period of four years for this retirement to take place, such that no later than June 30, 2025, the current mascot name will have been officially retired with honor.
- The Hart High School student body and site staff to decide on a new mascot name the decision and the process for this will come from the student body and site staff.
The proponents of retiring the mascot said that the argument to keep the Indian mascot would be akin to having a school have other, similarly offensive, race and ethnic-based mascots.
“Native people are not caricatures, native people are not a monolith,” said Jenny Ongele. “They are very diverse in customs and values. These mascots that highlight certain aspects of native culture are not an accurate depiction of the rich and diverse native walks of life.”
Julia Estrada, a self-identified Native American and Hart 2020 graduate who has been a vocal advocate since the near onset of the movement to change the mascot, said that one of the central arguments to the mascot debate is that by retiring it, they would be erasing history. However, she said it is impossible to erase 75 years of history because it is already in the past.
“It’s been really exhausting but I think ultimately, the board has been able to open their minds a bit and learn about things that they didn’t previously know,” said Estrada, who has in the past said she has seen headdresses and Native American imagery used by the student body at sporting events. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who really didn’t understand the issue with the mascot who are now very sympathetic to why it is inappropriate and disrespectful to Native people.”
Proponents of keeping the mascot said the board should not erase the tradition associated with the mascot and the school. Others said that the mascot could be used as a jumping off point to educate young students about the history of native tribes.
“I believe the issue is that we should use this time to educate, and this isn’t a time to erase,” said Ronda Chobanian, who self-identified herself as one-eighth Blackfoot Indian. “I’m very proud of my family’s heritage and I want it to be continued forward.”
Speakers for keeping the mascot made their argument that they believe the Indian mascot is a source of pride for Native people, and that the name is not offensive.
The mascot has been a hot-button topic since the summer of last year when protests occurred across the country in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Over the past year, the Hart district board members have heard from various voices on the topic, from previous administrators who headed the response to the local mascot controversy in years past to local tribe members to former and current Hart district students and families.
“No one is doing this — whatever they decide to do — without a tremendous amount of study and care,” said board member Linda Storli before the vote on the mascot was taken.