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The fate of the Napa High School Indian was finally decided Thursday night at a special meeting of the Napa Valley Unified School District Board of Education, with trustees voting unanimously to change the school’s longtime symbol and name after a year of community debate on the issue.

Before a packed audience filled with supporters and opponents of the Indian, the school board also voted in favor of changing the visual logo of the Redwood Middle School Warriors, which features a Native American-style spear tip.

But trustees endorsed the school district’s decision to keep the Warriors name, citing various definitions of the term that don’t relate to Native Americans.

“Martin Luther King considered himself a peaceful warrior,” said Superintendent Patrick Sweeney in explaining to the board why the school district did not recommend changing the name of Redwood Middle School’s symbol.

With backing from Native Americans and activists opposed to the Napa High Indian, the school district argued that the use of Native American names and images was offensive to indigenous peoples.

Sweeney cited California education law as well as the school board’s own policy stating “the use of Native American images and names in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding,” and that school symbols “shall be respectful of different cultural values and attitudes, and will depict individuals with fairness, dignity and respect.”

All seven of the trustees agreed with the school district’s request for change, and voted for a phased-in approach for removing the Indian name and logo and replacing them with new ones still to be determined.

“The treatment of Indians in this country,” said trustee Thomas Kensok, “is not to be proud of. It’s a dark stain on our history.”

“It is time to move forward,” Kensok added. “Napa High will continue to thrive. It is strong, and we want it to be stronger.”

Supporters of the Napa High Indian insisted the school’s longtime symbol, featuring a stern warrior staring into the distance, honors Native Americans rather than stereotyping them.

“We have the deepest respect and affection for native peoples,” said Rich Jacobson, who insisted the Indian is not meant to be “derogatory.”

Native Americans and others opposed to the Napa High Indian name and logo rejected these claims by alumni.

“There is no honor in being stereotyped,” said Kim DeOcampo. “If you want to honor us, honor our treaties” and “protect our sacred places.”

Other Napa High alums argued the school district should not be trying to change school symbols and names at a time when it is facing annual budget deficits.

“We’re still $12 million dollars in debt,” said Walt Price, referring to multi-year budget projections by NVUSD. “Now you’re saying let’s spend a bunch more money you don’t have?”

Kensok and trustee Robb Felder rejected this argument, saying the district’s fiscal situation should not prevent the changes.

“It should have been done a long time ago,” said Kensok. “It needs to be done. There will not be a good time” because of money.

“We will be on the right side of history” with these changes, he added.

Some Napa High alums claimed the trustees made up their minds before the meeting to get rid of the Indian.

Ernie Stoddard, Napa High Class of ’66, remarked: “The mascot mess is all about political correctness.”

“This process is a sham,” said Stoddard, who left the room before the final vote.

The school board gave Napa High and Redwood Middle School three years to fully implement the required changes.

The Indian will be officially retired as of June 30, the end of the current school year.

District leaders recommended that Napa High establish a location on campus to honor the history of the Indian name and symbol, and include a collection of memorabilia.

Napa High will have until next February to identify a new name and logo, and it must replace all Indian imagery by June 30, 2021.

Redwood Middle School will also have until June 2021 to replace the current Warriors imagery with something else.

NVUSD estimates the changes to murals, gym floors, band/athletic uniforms and more will cost $150,000—$220,000 annually for three years.

The controversy began when members of the Vallejo-based Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPIRIT) showed up at a school board meeting in October 2015 and demanded the Indian be replaced.

That demand led to the school district forming a special committee to decide the Indian’s fate.

Led by former NVUSD Superintendent John Glaser, the Napa High School Mascot Committee consisted of four Napa High students, three Napa High staff, two parents, three alumni, three indigenous representatives, two district administrators, a college professor, and a non-voting board member.

Napa High Indian supporters claimed NVUSD stacked the advisory committee with people who wanted to discard the name and logo.

In February 2017, the Napa High School Mascot Committee voted nearly unanimously to change the name and symbol.

The announcement provoked a fiery reaction from Napa High alumni and other Indian supporters who wanted to keep the name and symbol in place as part of a longstanding tradition and love for their school.

Sensing that the local community wanted to weigh in, the school board held two special meetings last spring in the district auditorium, which can hold 650 people.

The meetings attracted hundreds of people and were long, emotional and at times unruly, with moments of intimidation between supporters and opponents who showed up en masse to argue for and against the Indian.

Trustees opted last May to table the Indian issue indefinitely, and did not take it up again until last week when the board decided to bring the matter to a vote at Thursday’s meeting.

In the meantime, the issue became part of the rationale for a recall campaign launched last summer to oust all seven school board trustees.

The trustees also faced criticism over their handling of a football hazing controversy at Napa High and a multi-million dollar budget deficit facing NVUSD.

Recall sponsors spent six months circulating petitions to qualify the recall for the ballot, but ultimately failed to collect enough signatures.

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.