Napa High School announced Wednesday morning that it may drop its Indian mascot name after a school district committee recommended it be changed. Students and alumni reacted emotionally to the news that spread quickly across social media and locally.
In a statement read in classrooms to students by faculty, Principal Annie Petrie said the Napa High School Mascot Committee “put forth a near unanimous recommendation that the Napa High mascot be changed.”
Petrie, who served on the ad hoc committee consisting of students, alumni, parents, teachers, administrators, school board members and activists, said the Napa Valley Unified School District Board of Education will discuss the mascot recommendation at a special meeting on April 6 from 6-7 p.m.
Residents will have the opportunity to speak at that meeting, Petrie said. She added a decision would likely be made at another school board meeting scheduled for April 20.
On Wednesday, current and former students expressed mostly negative reactions to changing the Indian mascot, which has been in use since before World War II, according to district officials.
“We should keep our mascot” to maintain the school’s tradition, said junior Diana Garcia during lunchtime.
Junior Diana Victorino said altering the mascot would “waste so much money” because it would entail changing many things at Napa High, from the “uniforms for the band” to “the painting in the gym” and more.
“That’s our mascot,” said Victorino. “If we were to change our mascot, it would change everything.”
Sophomore Yuni Garcia remarked: “I don’t know how people say it’s racist. I think we’re representing those people” by using the Indian name. “I think it’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Senior Darwin Elmore said he moved to Napa from Boise, Idaho, where there was controversy over the name Braves for the local high school. He said he “wouldn’t mind seeing it change” at Napa High.
“Personally, if it’s offensive to the Native American culture, I think they have a right to complain and have it changed,” said Elmore. “History shows that European cultures took over and wiped out a lot of their homeland.”
Alum Jeff Green, Class of ’65, whose parents were of Menominee and Iowa Indian heritage, said changing the mascot “would be tragic” and unfair to past, present and future Napa High students.
“It’s a longstanding tradition that goes back generations,” said Green. “There’s a long blue and gold line that cuts through” the community.
“I think the Napa Indian is a source of pride, honor and respect,” he said.
His brother, Duey Green, Class of ’71, said, “I’m just not struck that a mascot as an Indian is disrespectful.”
A three-sport athlete at Napa High, Duey Green said he felt pride to be an Indian during games, particularly on the road. “I always felt when we walked into an opposing gym, opposing field, opposing diamond, that we were representing Napa as an Indian. And I felt proud about that.”
The recommendation from the mascot committee came after three months of closed-door meetings, during which members expressed “mutual respect and deep consideration” toward each other “despite opposing viewpoints,” according to Petrie.
“The people in the room were truly focused on educating themselves and listening to all sides,” she said.
Angel Heart, a committee member representing the Vallejo-based group, Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes, said the recommendation “didn’t come quickly or easily” during the process.
Heart said while committee members were “doing their best to respect each other,” the discussions were “not all flowers and glitter and unicorns.”
“A lot of frustration and anger was directed at me” by some committee members when she spoke up about changing the mascot, she said.
After telling the committee about her Native American heritage, which has roots in South America, she said one member remarked: “Oh, you’re from below the border.”
“It was kind of rude,” said Heart, who expects the Napa “community backlash will be very aggressive” to keep the mascot.
Green agreed that the reaction to changing the mascot will be heated, saying: “I think there’s going to be a real explosion of emotion and outrage.”
The mascot issue arose two years ago when Heart and other Native American activists requested the school board address — and change — Napa High’s longtime school symbol. They argued the use of Indians was insensitive, perpetuated a stereotype, and dehumanized Native Americans.
Their call prompted the school district to form the mascot committee, which met privately from November to February, to study the issue.
The meetings of the “working group,” as described by NVUSD spokeswoman Elizabeth Emmett, were not open to the public because the ad hoc committee was not subject to the Brown Act, the state’s open meetings law.
Green said the meetings should have been open to the public. “The process has been flawed, and it hasn’t been transparent,” he said.
In the event the school board votes to accept the recommendation, the committee offered some suggestions for a new mascot. They included using “Napa Pride” along with a lion paw print for a logo, or using a simple “N,” which the school used prior to adopting the Indian as the mascot.
Petrie said students will “have a voice” in selecting a new mascot for Napa High, which is 120 years old this year.
The committee also recommended that school district policy regarding school mascots be amended to make them “gender neutral” and to ensure they are “respectful of different cultural values and attitudes” and that they depict “individuals with fairness, dignity and respect.”
The school district established the mascot committee after Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes appeared before the school board in October 2015 and asked the mascot be replaced.
The group, which included former Napa High and other local graduates, had previously encouraged schools in Vallejo and Crockett to dump their mascot names based on Native Americans.
The movement to change mascot names got a boost in 2015 when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation banning California public schools from using the name Redskins.