Steve Petzold | Preserve the Hart Indian Legacy

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

On July 14, the William S, Hart Union High School District is scheduled to decide whether to “keep or remove” the so-called Hart High “mascot.”

Assuming that the trustees limit their discussion to the wording of the agenda item, this should be a very simple item to dispose of, since there has not been a mascot in the classical sense since around 1995. A mascot is not a name or logo, it is a person or thing that is supposed to symbolize an organization.

In the mid-1990s, the principal at Hart High consulted with an activist organization, the American Indian Movement, and a decision was made not to have a mascot (typically a student with a classic Plains Indian headdress) at athletic and school events.

A mascot, in the classical sense of the word, has not been allowed at Hart High in 25 years. Several trustees will privately acknowledge that Hart High does not have a mascot. When asked publicly to identify the offensive mascot, the trustees are silent. 

What Hart High has at this time is a beautiful logo consisting of a decorative H with two feathers attached to the leading vertical line. No one seriously considers this to be a mascot or offensive.

The Hart trustees seem reluctant to acknowledge that the real underlying issue is the moniker/nickname, Hart Indians. During public discussion the trustees seem reticent to use the word Indians, substituting terms like Native Americans or indigenous peoples. The word “Indians” is not a pejorative term. “Indians” is a descriptive term used by government agencies, tribes and nonprofits.

The federal agency charged with interacting with Indian tribes is the Bureau of Indian Affairs. L.A. County has had a Native American Indians Commission since 1976. A local group of Indian activists striving to achieve federal recognition is named the Fernandeño-Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. Other tribes that have achieved federal recognition near the Santa Clarita Valley are the Chumash Indian Tribe (Ventura County) and the Tejon Indian Tribe (Kern County). The word “Indian” is incorporated in textbooks at the high school and can be found in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

There is no reason to eliminate the moniker “Indians.” It is the most inclusive word possible to describe those people who claim ancestry prior to the arrival of European explorers and settlers.

The strongest reason for preserving the word Indian at Hart High is the indelible tie between the district and school’s namesake, William S. Hart, and the Sioux tribe. Hart was a world-famous movie star in the silent era who specialized in depicting the West in an authentic manner. Hart was raised in Indian territory while traveling with his father. His experience was largely influenced by his interaction with members of the Sioux. Hart was conversant in the Sioux language his entire life. In his autobiography “My Life East and West,” Hart dedicated a chapter to recounting his fond childhood memories of growing up with the Sioux. The chapter is titled, “The Backbone of the Sioux Country.”

On June 27, 1926, the Billings Gazette reported that Red Hawk honored Bill Hart by christening him as Crazy Horse. Hart was in the Montana area to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Little Big Horn in which Sioux warriors defeated cavalry troops led by Gen. George Custer. 

Hart cast real Indians in his movies, such as Apache leader Nino Cochise in “Tumbleweeds.”

It will be very unfortunate to sever the Indians from the great legacy of William S. Hart, who honored and respected them, and the Sioux who in turn reciprocated the deep affection.

Changing the mascot at Hart High should not be done for light and transient reasons based upon a well-meaning effort to eliminate all forms of racism.

William S. Hart was not a racist and he would never sanction or approve of a negative depiction of Indians. When he willed his Newhall mansion to Los Angeles County, Hart conditioned that a prominent plaque be placed on the property which is located outside the front door. It reads, “WILLIAM S. HART, FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE AMERICAN PUBLIC OF EVERY RACE AND CREED.”

The Los Angeles County Native American Pow Wow is an annual event held at Hart Park, located below his mansion in Newhall.

I urge the Hart board to keep the beautiful logo and the Indian moniker. It is in the best interest of the district and Hart High. At the same time we should think of creative ways to improve stakeholder education about local Indian history, and William S. Hart.

Let us preserve the Hart/Indian legacy while improving educational opportunities for our students.

Steve Petzold

Santa Clarita

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