A banner waving high on the Hart High School campus on April 14, 2021 displays Indian feathers on the school’s varsity letter. By Tatyana Ekmekjian
A banner waving high on the Hart High School campus on April 14, 2021 displays Indian feathers on the school’s varsity letter. By Tatyana Ekmekjian

What is a mascot? 

According to a presentation shown by Hart High School Principal Jason d’Autremont at a Hart District Board meeting on Feb. 9, 2020, a mascot is “‘a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck.’” 

D’Autremont said “he received notification of a change.org petition in June 2020 requesting a change to the Hart mascot and the petition currently has over 18,000 signatures and has gained a national following.”

After receiving such overwhelming numbers, should Hart High School consider changing the mascot? At the Hart District Board meeting held virtually on April 14, 2021, 100 viewers heard d’Autremont announce the results of a recent survey held for students and staff regarding how the community feels about the Indian mascot. The results were almost identical for students and staff.

Hart High School Principal Jason d’Autremont shared the results of surveys at the Hart District Board meeting over Zoom on April 14, 2021. The surveys were taken by students and staff as a way to gauge whether the community would want to change, keep, or do neither to the mascot. Screenshots by Tatyana Ekmekjian 

About 50% of staff and students voted to keep the mascot, 38% of staff and 26% of students voted to change the mascot, while 12% of staff and 25% of students did not have a preference. 

In d’Autremont’s Feb. 9, 2020 presentation, he quoted General Manager William Fleet and Managing Editor Tim Whyte from The Signal editorial of Sept.16, 1997 saying, “There may never be a shortage of individuals who are offended by the use of such images as mascots. But as long as Hart High treats its mascot with dignity and respect and strives to make sure students are aware of how American Indian tribes are an important historical and cultural link to North America’s past, then fight on.” 

So if the intention of a mascot is good, does it make it acceptable? Can it still be offensive? Recent Hart High School graduate Julia Estrada responded at this same Hart District Board meeting in her presentation, saying that Indian mascots can not only be offensive, but can cause harm to young people who share this heritage. 

“Native American mascots display stereotypical representation which leaves harmful impacts on the self-esteem for young Native people,” Estrada said, citing the American Psychological Association as well as UC Berkeley News. 

On display in the Hart High School main gym on April 14, 2021 is “Home of the Indians” for all to see. By Tatyana Ekmekjian

Stereotypical displays mentioned by Estrada included the wearing of headdresses, spears, emerging from teepees to be crowned “tribe leader,” and Indian chants; all of which Estrada personally witnessed in her experience at Hart High School.

In d’Autremont’s presentation, he shared that the school has already taken steps to remove all headdresses from campus and events, ban spears and teepees from rallies, and prohibit “stereotypical noises, yells or chants at school events.”

The trophy case in the main gym of Hart High School on April 14, 2021 where the game-day Indian headdress used to be on display. It has recently been removed since the ban of headdresses at Hart High School. By Tatyana Ekmekjian

However, Estrada still believes it’s time for a new mascot altogether.

“Over the years, Hart took several steps away from the original mascot,” she said. “It’s time to take the final step and commit to the retirement and replacement of the mascot.”

Estrada put it as simply as the ASB of John Burroughs’ High School in Burbank seems to have retired their 73-year-old mascot. According to the students of John Burroughs, an offensive mascot is grounds for removal. 

Ever since its opening in 1948, John Burroughs’ student body has been known as the Indians. However, at the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the ASB of John Burroughs High School began the three-step process of deliberating a new mascot. 

At the Hart District Board meeting previously mentioned, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman explained the constitutional process partnered with the current progress of John Burroughs’ ASB. The first step is to hold a formal vote by the ASB Executive Council. 

“(On) Sept. 1, 2020, the ASB Executive Council voted to have the current student body determine if the Indian mascot is what they want to use to represent John Burroughs High School,” Kuhlman said. 

Step two of the process, as listed in Kuhlman’s presentation, was to be initiated by “providing resources and information to the student body.”

These resources include different Google Forms meant for the student body to ask questions and gather information, as well as educational meetings with the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians. 

In a Youtube video posted by John Burroughs’ ASB, an unnamed student and ASB member stated that, “ASB formed a committee and delegated tasks including reaching out to local tribes, finding programs to help offset the costs of changing the mascot and researching schools who had changed from a Native American mascot.”

Kuhlman suggested that the next step for the Hart District would be to similarly visit or speak with someone from the Tataviam Tribe. So at the next Hart District Board meeting held on Feb.17, 2021, Tribal President Rudy Ortega Jr. of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians was in attendance to inform people, answer questions, and share his opinions. Mr. Ortega discussed his tribe’s lineage and tragic history of being taken from their villages to Mission San Fernando.

“Only three of the 26 lineages survive today,” explained Mr. Ortega. “(We) became refugees in our homeland and were not allowed American citizenship until 1924. The first people on the continent were the last to be given rights and without change, (my) people would still be suppressed.”

When he was asked, Mr. Ortega said that his Band supports changing the mascot.

Eleven comments were left in support of changing the mascot by those including Kathryn Smith, Nick Gravel, Shannon Kaehny, John Mia, Sheena Mohsen, Patty Barrett, Donna Yocum, Bruce McFarland, and Julia Estrada. Four comments were submitted by Madison Aguilar, Beth Seal, Stephen Petzold, and Elaine Ballace in favor of keeping the Hart High School mascot. 

Stereotypical Indian artwork is visible in the Hart High School main gym on April 14, 2021. By Tatyana Ekmekjian

Board members responded by mentioning that all students and the community need to be engaged in the next steps, as all input is necessary.

John Burroughs also took this very seriously in their journey as they made sure to create open discussions online accessible for all at any time. In the Youtube video posted by John Burroughs’ ASB, a variety of unnamed ASB members went on to list the forums, resources, and events held for alumni, students, faculty, parents, and community meant to update and advise.

After lots of informative conversation, a final vote of the student body needed to take place. 

“With nearly double the amount of yes votes than no votes, the students made the decision to change the mascot,” stated an unnamed current John Burroughs’ ASB member. 

After hundreds of submissions for possible mascots, ASB made eliminations until there were merely a top two. 

After hundreds of submissions for possible mascots, ASB made eliminations until there were merely a top two. With the participation of over 1,7000, the final vote concluded on March 31.

On April 6, 2021 John Burroughs’ ASB posted the Youtube video announcing the new mascot: Bears.

That brings Hart High School to begin the first step of the mascot changing process. 

On April 14, 2021 at 7 p.m., the Hart District Board held a live virtual meeting where d’Autremont shared opinions on the Hart mascot collected via surveys completed by students and staff. The results showed greater numbers of people with opinions of keeping the mascot rather than changing it.

The Hart Student Body side of the gym is titled “Hart Indian Territory,” as pictured at Hart High School on April 14, 2021. By Tatyana Ekmekjian

After the results of the survey were announced, District Board Member Linda Storli favored a mascot-changing process.

“It’s time we rid ourselves of race-based mascots,” she said. 

Time has been set aside during the next Hart District Board meeting, which will be held virtually on April 26, for community members to discuss the issue and share their input. A link to the meeting will be provided on the district website.

This does not imply action will be taken at the meeting, but that conversation will be had and opinions will be shared on the matter. 

Do you think the mascot should change?

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