Fresno High School’s mascot will still be the Warriors but will no longer be represented by the image of a Native American man. The Fresno Unified School Board’s decision to drop the mascot image capped months of meetings and discussions over whether the mascot image is racist and hurtful and should be changed.
After several more hours of discussion Wednesday night, the board voted 6-1 to keep the Warriors mascot name and give students a major voice in selecting the new image. Trustee Terry Slatic cast the lone no vote.
Trustee Carol Mills, who represents the Fresno High area, seconded the motion to change the mascot image. She noted that it has been changed repeatedly over the school’s long history, so the tradition — cited by many who wanted to retain the mascot image — has been transitory.
Also transitory is how Native Americans themselves felt about the image, she said, noting that five or six years ago Fresno High’s principal reached out to Native American students and tribal elders, asking for their input on the Warrior mascot image. They responded that they did not find the image disrespectful, Mills said.
“Despite the fact that — that might have been given the stamp of approval five or six years ago, it does not mean that times do not change and that opinions do not change,” she said.
Student Opinions Matter
Mills said she had read dozens of emails and heard comments at listening sessions and a public town hall meeting, and concluded that the majority of Native Americans who spoke out are in favor of changing the image. Fresno High students themselves indicated through a school Senate vote and student newspaper poll that a majority favored the change, she said.
Trustee Claudia Cazares said the discussion itself seemed almost unnecessary, given that the trustees voted earlier this year to pass an anti-racism resolution, and the image was clearly racist.
Slatic kicked off his remarks with a dictionary definition of the word “mascot” as a symbolic figure chosen to bring good luck, not to embody prejudices, stereotypes or cultural insensitivities. He quoted from emails from two Fresno High alumni, one a leader of the Dunlap band of Indians, the other who signed up to serve in the military after his graduation in 1995 and who said the Native American mascot reflected honorable traits of “noble, courage, a fighter, and never give up.”
Slatic, who also cast the lone no vote against the anti-racism resolution, also quoted from the Native American Guardian’s Association, who maintain that support by Native American for mascots with Indian images has been stifled.
The association, Slatic said, asserts that campaigns to have mascots changed rely on “lies, distortions, misinformation and intimidation to bully weak-willed school boards into caving into their demands.” The association maintains that many Native Americans have been threatened with losing jobs or benefits and are fearful about speaking out in support of maintaining Native American images as team mascots, he said.
Trustee Changed Her Mind
Trustee Valerie Davis initially appeared to side with retaining the mascot image, saying she didn’t want to “split the baby” by keeping the name but dropping the image. The mascot name was selected over a century ago, and while she couldn’t query those earlier student about their choice, “I can honor it…
“I just have to believe that the people who started this school and the students, this meant something to them, and I will honor that.”
But when it came time to cast her vote, Davis said she had been swayed by the compelling comments made by the two student trustees, who represent Fresno and Edison high schools, and voted in favor of the change.
The board also directed the district staff to start preparing future agenda items to review other school mascots and to create educational opportunities for Native American students.
The quest to change Fresno High’s mascot was sparked last summer by a petition drive started by Jamie Nelson, who identifies as a member of the Yokut people. Within days, a counter-petition opposing the mascot change had been launched by Joshua Washburn, a Fresno High alumni.
As of Wednesday night, Nelson’s petition more than 6,700 signatures, while Washburn’s had more than 1,500, district spokeswoman Nikki Henry told the trustees.