Messina calls for Hart mascot discussion as unveiling nears 

William S. Hart Union High School District board member Joe Messina speaks at their board meeting Aug. 24, 2023. Trevor Morgan / The Signal.
William S. Hart Union High School District board member Joe Messina speaks at their board meeting Aug. 24, 2023. Trevor Morgan / The Signal.
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Ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled unveiling of the new Hart High School mascot, William S. Hart Union High School District governing board member Joe Messina called for a renewed discussion of the mascot at Wednesday’s board meeting. 

Hart students and staff voted at the beginning of this month on the new mascot, with the two choices presented being “Hawks” and “Bison.” 

Messina’s request to have the item placed on a future meeting agenda came after more than a dozen people expressed concern at Wednesday’s meeting over the “Indians” mascot being erased and the things that were promised with the change not being delivered. 

The governing board voted to change the mascot in 2021, citing a need to move away from a race-based symbol that the school has been associated with since Jan. 10, 1946. The board decided to make this change no later than 2025. 

Governing board President Linda Storli said in a phone interview on Friday that it would take three board members to agree to have the item placed on a future agenda, but added that “it wouldn’t make sense to return to the discussion after the new mascot has been unveiled.” 

Messina said in a phone interview on Friday that the district has until 2025 to make the change and doesn’t want the district to rush into something that a portion of the community, including members of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, feels is wrong. 

“We need to give the Tataviam Indians, who we were concerned with, a real voice in this as a whole. That’s No. 1,” Messina said. “No. 2 is, I want to know why we disregarded what the majority of the people wanted, and several votes now.” 

According to an April 14, 2021, Signal story, approximately 61 Hart staff members voted to keep the “Indians” mascot out of 180 who voted in a survey, while 661 Hart students of the 1,343 who were surveyed voted to keep it as well. Hart’s enrollment at the time was approximately 2,100 students, with 340 of those students surveyed saying they had no preference.  

All four grade levels had more votes to keep the mascot over those who wanted a change. 

George Saldivar, one of those community members who voiced their concerns on Wednesday, said that as a person with Tataviam blood, he is not OK with the mural that was commissioned as part of the change. The mural, unveiled last year, depicts a nature scene with a hawk, a bear, some trees, mountains, flowers and a river. 

Multiple people said on Wednesday that the mural does not do enough to honor the Native Americans that are meant to be remembered with it, and a cultural center that was also meant to be built to honor Native Americans has not been constructed yet. 

“It’s irritating that we gave in to a mob as opposed to truly allowing the people that we were eradicating to have a voice,” Messina said. “That was my opinion then, and that’s my opinion now.” 

Local activist Steve Petzold brought up other concerns with the process, specifically with the way that the nomination process for the new mascot was conducted. The nominations were submitted to a committee in April of last year after students and staff made submissions. The numbers of nominations collected through that process were as follows: 

  • Hawks (or any derivative): 129.  
  • Indians/no change: 33.  
  • Bison (or Buffalo): 21.  
  • Warriors: 22.  
  • Eagles: 5. 

Hart Principal Jason d’Autremont said in an email to a community member that the nominations for “Indians” or “no change,” along with “Warriors,” were not part of the official tally as the board had voted to change the mascot. He added that “Warriors” was not considered due to members of the Tataviam band feeling that it would not be appropriate. 

Governing board member Erin Wilson said in a text message to The Signal that she was not on the board when the decision was made, and therefore felt “ambivalent” toward the situation. However, as a Canyon High grad, she felt “a little sad” that her alma mater’s rival’s history could be changed. 

Since becoming a board member in the fall and hearing from some of the concerned community members, Wilson said she has now started to form her own opinion on the matter. 

“Hart High School was the first school in the district, and it was out of William S. Hart’s close relationship with and respect for the Indians that Hart was named the ‘Home of the Indian,’” Wilson wrote. “If the Indian is removed, so is their memory and the honor that was meant to go to their culture and heritage. Additionally, much reference has been made to the surveys that were taken. All resulted in a majority of people (students, staff and community) choosing to keep the Indian.” 

She added that she thought it was interesting that the district sought approval on Wednesday for a piece of literature titled “Code Talker,” a memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of World War II, to be used in U.S. history courses. The board ultimately approved the literature to be used, with Wilson saying she is “glad that students will now learn about the considerable contribution made to our great nation by the Native Americans.” 

Messina wasn’t quite sure why people were unaware of the talks that were had more than three years ago, but now that they are raising concerns, he wants to give them a chance to discuss the issue before it does become final.  

And no matter which way that discussion goes — whether the board votes to turn back on its decision or stay the current course — Messina said that decision would be the end of it. 

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