Former Superintendent Patrick Sweeney with the Board Of Education made a choice to actively seek the change of the Napa High School mascot in 2015-18.
As an associate representative of the Native American Guardian Association, I have since been investigating to discover why this issue impacted so many individuals, the alumni, the Napa Valley Unified School District staff and, most of all, our young students. Here are a few facts from the many moving parts of the district’s naif choice. Importantly, the misinformation that fogged the district’s uninformed and uneducated actions.
Andre Billiedeaux, one of our nation’s foremost historians and educator of Native American history and culture, guided me to research the Napa High School year books, with the premise that I would obtain a more critical understanding of our community and the tradition of the Napa High School culture that many of us hold dearly.
The opposing group Not Your Mascot offered a barrage of terms such as racism, racists and genocide. Short of name calling, none of the minority group offered an intelligent historical discussion.
Here are some facts to consider with the tradition of the Napa Indian. It began in 1909 with the publication of the Napanee Year Book. The story of how Plains Indians came to Napa Valley soon to be named the Napanee Indians. The story is written in fantasy form likened to “The Song of Hiawatha,” which is a 1855 epic poem in trochaic tetrameter by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that features Native American characters and story line.
I found there are justifications for the student’s interpretations.
The 1910 U.S. Census reveals only one Wappo Tribal person living in Napa County. Misinformation has been circulated that European pioneers invaded Napa Valley and committed genocide against the tribal groups similar to a special ops action. Not correct.
The initial research account of the population of Wappo-speaking tribes estimated that the population was 1,680 at the time of contact (Cook 1940). Spanish Franciscans have first initial contact with the Wappo in 1795 (Milliken, 1995). In 1848, the tribal people having fought continuously against all European encroachment, disease, forced labor in the Franciscan colonial system, also conflict in the Vallejo period and then finally the overwhelming Gold Rush. What was left of the first ones in all of Alta California were rounded up by Fremont and taken to Kashia Reservation in 1850 under federal mandate.
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History reveals to us that by 1909, the Valley had been systematically repopulated and that the existence of the Wappo were not recorded or available in our dominant culture history. Hence, we have the creation by the students a Native tribal group that settles in Napa Valley.
As offered in many of the writings found in the Napanee. It was the students’ effort in honoring the first ones, the people before them and not having a clear understanding of the systematic encroachment over decades against the first ones resulting in a deficit of Wappo tribal knowledge and culture.
As Andre advised me, we have to look at what the young-minded student was looking at in that time period 1909 that inspires the digest of material in Hiawatha form. We have Vaudeville productions, dime store novels and then in 1909 new technology brings motion pictures to young students with the release of the long-awaited film, “Hiawatha.” Also in the Napanee of 1910, Sitting Bull appears on the front cover. In 1910, James Marshall, indian inspector for Standing Rock Reservation, the home of Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa Sioux Tribe, publishes his memoirs.
In the writings of the Napanee, there are tenets that invoke honor, honesty, courage, and so forth. A form of honor code. But not all Napanees through the years focused on the Indian. Some did and some did not. In 1915, the year book was specific to the successful Boys and Girls Debate Teams. A 1920s liberal student body produces women's rights too.
From the beginning in 1909 to 2018, we see the Indian in the Napanee tradition. In 1953, we see the Napa Indian mascot entering the Athletic Department. However from 1921 the year in which the Block N was organized, that tradition and mascot is carried on for 98 years by generational connections to our present time. The yearbooks reveal the history and the spirit of each generation attending Napa High School for these many years.
Found in school history there exists concepts, ideas and the amazing art work of each decade. We see the cultural deficits of the past resulting in student naivety. Today in the Sweeney era, a decision was made by ignoring all the available information and opposing views, as well giving up all responsibility for professional conduct in trusted service to the community. Naif, you decide?
Dalton J. Piercey