04/01/99 Alvarado mascot complaint
04/08/99 mascot issue sent to trustees'
04/28/99 Washington woman to address trustees'
05/04/99 Press release after the meeting
05/13/99 Decision of the trustees'
MASCOTS - Racism in our schools
Alvarado somewhat reluctantly entered the growing controversy over the use of Indians as mascots last week when a complaint was filed with the Texas Education Agency about the school district's use of the symbol.
"I wouldn't call it a problem," said Alvarado ISD Supt. Ben Colwell, who has received numerous e-mails from Native American groups protesting the Indian mascot. "They're complaining. I don't really know if anything will come of it."
Julius Gordon, director of the TEA's division of complaints and management, said his office has two months to decide on its jurisdiction over the complaint.
"We have received a letter of complaint surrounding the use of symbols that are demeaning to Native Americans," he said. "It's being evaluated to see if this agency has jurisdiction to be involved."
Colwell said he first received an e-mail requesting that he consider changing the mascot, which he replied to. "I thought I was being really nice," he said. "I explained to them that the characteristics the Indian represents to us - honor, nobility, strength and courage - are things that we want our kids to take with them when they leave here."
Members of local and national Native American groups don't see the use of the mascot that way, though. "I personally think it's discriminating," said Johnson County teenager Little Black Crow, who asked that her last name not be printed. "You go over there and there's picnic tables and stuff with this big, ugly Indian guy." Little Black Crow said she has written Colwell two messages asking him to consider changing the mascot. "I would prefer them to change it," she said. "They say it's an honor, but it was our honor to give to them. They didn't have the right to take that and use it."
Colwell said some of the e-mails he received were rude and insulting. "They wrote me and called me arrogant," he said. "They also said, among other things, that I was disgrace to the educational profession."
Mike Wicks, co-director of American Indian Cultural Support in Florida, said that kind of behavior is what his organization discourages.
"It was someone outside the organization who made first contact," Wicks, who has become involved in the Alvarado debate, said. "That's exactly what we try not to do. We don't want to anger people and make them defensive," he said. "Our mission is to educate the educators. We feel that if we can show them that what they're doing is harmful to not only the Native American students but all the students, we can get them to change."
Colwell, in response to an insulting e-mail that threatened to address the issue to a higher authority, offered up God as the highest authority, which didn't go over well with Native Americans, who posted the comment on a website titled "Alvarado, Texas School District's Racism."
"If I had it to do over again I probably wouldn't have said that," Colwell said, adding that he never actually said the quote attributed to him on the site, "Take it to God if you wish!"
Wicks said use of Indian mascots perpetuates harmful stereotypes among all students. "Even if the Native students aren't offended, the non-Native students are taught that it's OK to belittle another race and that's harmful to them."
Colwell said he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "I told them in one of the replies I sent that I'm mostly Irish and English," Colwell said, "and if someone were to use that as a mascot, I'd be proud."
Little Black Crow said she understands his viewpoint. ''If he thinks that would be an honor, then why doesn't he change the Alvarado mascot to that?" she asked. "It's degrading. None of us are bright yellow and purple."
The 16-year-old was the inspiration for what has become a national outpouring of support for changing the mascot. "There are quite a few people both locally and nationwide and they're all pretty worked up about it," she said. "We're all like a family. We've been through a lot, so it keeps us strong and tight. "All of the Natives are really big on fighting for their children," she continued. "When I found it offensive, my tribe sort of all just rose up around me."
Little Black Crow's mother, Patti RedDawn, said she is proud of her daughter for standing up against what many Native Americans have seen as a problem for a long time. "My uncle is 83 years old and he has long braids," she said. "Every time he goes out somewhere, the people call him 'chief' or 'redskin.' It hurts him and it hurts us."
Wicks and Little Black Crow both said they weren't involved in the demonstrations outside Dallas radio station KISS-FM after disc jockey Dave "Kidd" Kraddick had listeners call his morning show and assign Indian names to their most embarrassing moments. "It was offensive and I knew some people who were involved in the protests," Little Black Crow said. Her mother explained that the use of Indian names as a joke is a serious insult to Native Americans. "The naming ceremony is sacred," she said. "It's like making fun of a church service on the radio."
Crayola recently re-named the copper-colored "Indian Red" crayon after the company was deluged with complaints.
There have been cases, including a recent one in Dallas, where school boards voted to change mascots voluntarily in response to similar complaints but Colwell said he doesn't see that happening in Alvarado. "I have no intention of changing it, nor does the community have any intention of changing it," he said. " ... I didn't think it to be worth my time to phone the TEA because I don't think they have any jurisdiction over this."
There are more than 25 high schools in Texas with some type of Indian mascot. Only one reported having recieved a similar complaint - Keller High School in Northeast Tarrant County. Wicks and Little Black Crow said they had nothing to do with that. "I think it's people who live in these areas and send their kids to these schools finally starting to get sick of this," Little Black Crow said. Wicks agreed. "Native Americans are just beginning to find a voice," he said. "AICS is trying to help them." The organization is in the process of filing for non-profit status, he said.
Colwell reiterated that the sentiments in Alvarado, which has used the Indian as a mascot since 1920, aren't hateful. "We don't want to do anything to insult anybody or hurt anybody's feelings," he said. "I think if these people were here and saw how the community views the mascot, it would make a difference."
Both groups await the return of a TEA decision on the matter, which Wicks said can be appealed if unfavorable to Native Americans. "We don't think it will have to go that far," he said, "but there are other avenues of appeal." ------------------------------ All Images and stories are property of The Star Group and/or AwE, and may not be used without permission.
By LYNDEE STEPHENS
Star-Bulletin Managing Editor
A ruling handed down by the Texas Education Agency last week has brought the dispute over Alvarado's Indian mascot closer to home. The letter, written by Equal Education Opportunity Unit Director Tomas Villarreal, states that while the TEA has no authority over school mascots, the agency can intervene if local school officials don't hold hearings on such issues. "According to the agency's general counsel, you have the right to petition for redress of your grievances by addressing your concern directly to the local board of trustees," the letter reads. "If the board of trustees refuses to hear your concern and you can acquire documentation to that effect, you may present this complaint to the Texas Education Agency and/or request a hearing on this matter before the commissioner of education."
Alvarado ISD Supt. Ben Colwell said he considers the issue closed. "As far as I'm concerned, this issue was closed a long time ago," he said. "I don't expect that the district is really going to be very receptive to changing it."
Mike Wicks, co-director of American Indian Cultural Support, said he wants to discuss the matter further with Colwell. "I would really like to get into more conversations with Ben and make him understand what we're really after," he said. "It's not a fight." Wicks said that, as an educator, Colwell should be receptive to ideas that would better the learning environment in Alvarado. "Belittling anyone is teaching the wrong thing to the kids in the school," he said. "I think educators should be willing to listen to that and do what's right for the kids."
Little Black Crow, the Johnson County teen-ager who first complained about the mascot, said the issue is not closed. She plans to appeal her cause directly to the AISD board of trustees, though she said she's unsure of when she'll appear at a meeting. "I'm a little disappointed [with the TEA ruling]," she said. "I'm sure I'll find a way to make this all work out."
TEA spokesman Joey Lozano said Tuesday that the agency can't intervene in the mascot selection no matter what. "This is an issue where we have no authority over school mascots," he said. "Anyone who has a grievance against a school board has a right to be heard and can petition us for a redress of those grievances."
The controversy has surfaced in Alvarado in the middle of a national debate over the use of Native Americans as mascots, a war in which the Natives won a small victory Friday. A review board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled Friday that the Washington Redskins football team has no right to trademark the franchise nickname because of its offensive nature, the Washington Post reported Saturday. The decision, passed on a complaint filed by a Native American group in 1992, prohibits the team from trademarking seven Redskin logos, including the team name and helmet logo. The loss of the trademarks is expected to cost the franchise millions of dollars in merchandise sales each year. "It's not a done deal yet," Wicks said. "All they really did was pull the copyright. I would suspect that they are going to change the name, though."
In Alvarado, Colwell maintained that he sees the mascot as complimentary to Native Americans. "You can't please everybody all of the time," he said. ------------------------------ All Images and stories are property of The Star Group and/or AwE, and may not be used without permission.
By LYNDEE STEPHENS
Star-Bulletin Managing Editor
A controversy over the Alvarado ISD's use of the Indian as its mascot that began last month should come to a head at Tuesday's school board meeting.
Storm Reyes, a Pullyap woman from Tacoma, Wash., will be at the meeting to address the AISD Board of Trustees about the mascot.
"It creates an artificial difference to some of the children," she said. "It's harmful and it's very important to me."
Reyes said she became involved in the dispute when a Native American teen-ager, Little Black Crow, sent a message to a Native American discussion group on the internet about the mascot.
"She said she lives in a town where the school district uses the Indian as a mascot," Reyes said. "She said she finds it embarrassing and degrading and she was afraid to tell anyone at the school.
"We told her that she didn't have to be afraid," she continued. "We tried to convince her that it's OK to stand up for who you are."
As a means of making her point, Reyes wrote to AISD Supt. Ben Colwell, expressing her feelings on the use of Indians as mascots. "I'm an Indian, and this doesn't do me any honor," she said. "I asked him to present the issue to the board and he refused."
Colwell said that while he respects Reyes' right to address the board, he doesn't think there's anything wrong with the mascot.
"If they want to spend their money to come here," he said. "Then that's their business."
Colwell declined further comment on the meeting, set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the AISD administration building, reiterating his stance on the mascot.
"The characteristics the Indian represents to us - honor, nobility, strength and courage - are things we want our kids to take with them when they leave here," he told the Star-Bulletin early this month.
Though the Native American travelling to Alvarado for the board meeting - Reyes, Mike Wicks of Florida and Keith Redbull of Louisiana - don't see it that way, most of the citizens of Alvarado do.
"I don't see why they think that," said AHS Booster Club President Mike Stovall. "I'll back up Dr. Colwell - it's a symbol of courage and integrity. That's the way I see it and that's the way I want my kids to see it."
The booster club has circulated petitions in the past week, asking citizens to sign a plea to save the Alvarado Indian mascot.
"I found out about [the petitions] after they were already going around," Stovall said, "but I agree with the idea."
Reyes said she and her husband will leave today to drive to Alvarado from Tacoma, sleeping in a tent on their journey because of a lack of money.
"I gave that child [Little Black Crow] my word that I'd do what I could," she said. "Little Black Crow's going to learn that when a grown up adult gives you their word, it means something.
"This is what I can do," she continued," I may not be crazy about it, but I'll do it."
According to board policy, Reyes and Wicks, who are both on the agenda to speak about the mascot, will get 20 minutes to divide between them for a presentation. "I'll go all this way to talk for less than 20 minutes," Reyes said, "to teach that child the real meaning of honor." Reyes said she doesn't expect to get any results immediately. "I expect that the board members will smile and thank me for coming," she said, "but maybe one person will hear me, or one parent will say to their child 'they're not any different than us.' We come from a different background - one that is rich with art and culture - and many of us hold different religious beliefs, but 95 percent of the time, we're doing the same things our white neighbors are doing."
Reyes, who filed a complaint with the Texas Education Agency about the 80-year-old mascot, said she agrees with the TEA that it's a local issue. "It should be discussed, though," she said. "It's causing pain to this child, because she knows what that war bonnet [worn by the Alvarado symbol] means. We have as many great statesman as we did warriors."
------------------------------ All Images and stories are property of The Star Group and/or AwE, and may not be used without permission.
The following press release has been prepared and authorized by Storm Reyes and Mike Wicks. AUTHORIZED PRESS RELEASE - Tonight Little Black Crow, Storm Reyes, and Mike Wicks attended the Alvarado Independent School District Board Meeting. Mike Wicks of American Indian Cultural Support (AICS) took the first ten minutes of the scheduled twenty minutes to present them with facts. The U.S. Department of Justice report called "American Indians and Crime" was presented first, followed with several psyclologist's reports. See http://www.aics.org/mascot/racist.html These were presented to show that racism exists against Indian people, and that the racial mascots contribute to the racism. A printed version of these documents were handed out to the board members, and other interested people. Storm Reyes of Tacoma Washington, having traveled 2,000 miles to do so, spoke from the heart for the second ten minutes of the scheduled twenty. She spoke more to the effects of using these mascots, and in particular to the use of depictions of Eagle feathers in the mascot images. Many people in the crowded (packed) room were nodding with understanding as she spoke. The moment Storm stopped speaking, the Chairman announced that the board had decided to keep the "Indians" mascot. The meeting adjourned. Storm and Mike were immediately surrounded by people, some voicing their displeasure at what was attempted in Alvarado, by these "outsiders", but many actually said they understood much more after hearing what we had to say. One man in particualr, and I think he is the head coach, told Mike that the physical mascot that parades around "was history". It will not be used any longer. One of the teachers that had spoken before Storm and Mike, and who had identified herself as a Native American (but she didn't know which tribe), had spoken in support of keeping the mascot. Afterwards, she apologized, and said she now understood. Several others changed their minds as a result of hearing Storm and Mike speak. Many others, although they might not have changed their minds, stopped by to apologize for the rude and unprofessional way that the board acted in making their decision on the spot, without a vote, and without looking at the information handed out. The picnic tables that had the purple and yellow "Indian" painted on them, now have a solid color top, and the wall behind the tables, which had also had an "Indian" painted on it, now has a large "A" in it's place. Not a total victory by any means, but the removal of these first few objects are a real beginnng. Storm, Mike, and Little Black Crow feel good about what was accomplished, even though the Board decided to keep the mascot. The issue is not finished, but a partial victory is encouraging.
By LYNDEE STEPHENS
Star-Bulletin Managing Editor
Members of the Alvarado ISD Board of Trustees flatly denied a request to change the district's mascot at the May 4 meeting. "Neither the board of trustees nor the school district intend any disrespect toward the Indian," board President Gordon Cox said. "The board wishes to retain the Indian as our school mascot. "The Indian possesses certain qualities that we would like our students to pursue." The judgement followed a half-hour debate that was the culmination of a month of controversy over the district's mascot, which Native Americans say is offensive. "A lot of people think that when we say 'racism,' we're talking about white supremacists," said Mike Wicks, a representative of American Indian Cultural Support in Florida. "We're not," he continued. "Most of the time, as I think is the case here, it's inadvertent." Wicks and Storm Reyes, a Native American woman from Tacoma, Wash., flew in for the board meeting after a letter-writing campaign failed to convince AISD Supt. Ben Colwell to put the issue on the agenda. "I don't think you all realize what you're doing to the children," Wicks told the board in front of a standing-room only crowd of almost 100. "You're teaching them that Indians are nothing but mascots." Colwell said he wasn't surprised by the board's decision. "I had a pretty good feeling that that was what they were going to do," he said, adding that he and Cox had discussed the issue before the meeting. "There wasn't any formal discussion or anything," he said, "but Gordon being the board president, we had talked about it and basically decided that if we weren't going to change it, we needed to take a firm stance and make that clear during the meeting." Chief John Allen and Det. Josh Vincent of the Alvarado Police Department were on hand, along with two uniformed officers, to keep peace at the meeting, which ended with no violence erupting. "We had information that there could have been some problems regarding the mascot controversy," Allen said. "With the problems in the schools right now, with the violence in Colorado, you can never take too many precautions." Wicks provided board members with thick packets of information about mascots and racism. Included in the packets was a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, indicating that Native Americans, with 124 violent crimes per 1,000 Natives, are far above the national average of 50 violent crimes per 1,000 citizens. [My note here; She left out the important word "VICTIM" of violent crimes!] "If I came to you and said 'We've just discovered a tenth planet in the solar system,' " Wicks said, "You'd move forward and change what's taught in the schools to address that. "I'm asking you to eliminate the mascot and teach in a non-racist environment." Alvarado residents turned out en masse for the meeting, where a handful spoke to the board about the way they feel about the mascot. "I have never really thought of the mascot as being racist," Darren Reese, an AISD student, said. "I'm proud to be an Indian." The child's sentiments were echoed by another student, Kyle McGowan, who spoke of tradition. "We have a great tradition in Alvarado," he said. "Alvarado may not be the richest school district in the world, but we do have pride." Mark Crosby, owner of Thunderbird Traders, a Native American and southwestern shop in Alvarado, said he sees both sides of the argument. "The name should stay because it is tradition," he told the board, protesting only the cartoonish mascot costume. "I offer all my resources of my shop to the people who want to change the figure of the mascot, but not the name." Colwell said discussions of changing the mascot costume began before the controversy erupted. "We've been using that getup for a number of years," he said. "I don't know what it will be changed to, but it will be changed. "Truthfully, if we hadn't already been discussing it," he continued, "that aspect probably would have changed as a result of all this anyway, because if people want to point fingers I think it's the only thing that could be legitimately criticized." Wicks said he understands the attachment to the mascot. "When I was in school, we had a mascot," he said. "We were the Panthers. I was very attached to that mascot and to this day I am a Panther. "I understand perfectly well where these kids are coming from," he continued, "but it's still hurtful to the kids in the schools." Reyes, on the other hand, said she doesn't think such importance should be placed on the mascot. "Your school isn't based on a mascot," she said. "It's based on the teachers and the parents and you [board members]. If all this pride rests in a picture, that's pretty shallow pride." Reyes held a cluster of eagle feathers as she spoke, using them as an example of the things she says the district uses as symbols without understanding their meaning. "We teach our children to respect these feathers," she said. "You don't know what these mean. Warrior was a profession. It was a job. They weren't violent. They weren't mean. They were trained and ready to protect and defend their people like the U.S. Army." Colwell has said repeatedly throughout the controversy that the Indian represents honor, integrity and courage, which are all qualities that he wants to instill in the students. "You talk to me of integrity and honor and courage," Reyes told board members. "Those are good words, but I want these things to be available to our children, too." Reyes used the April 20 school shootings in Littleton, Colo. to illustrate her point. "People have been asking since it happened: why?" she said. "Why did children kill children? Those boys killed athletes and children of color. They killed children because they only saw the differences. That's what your mascot teaches: the differences between us. I want the children to learn the same-ness." Alvarado Historical Society President Mike Richardson presented the board with local history on the mascot. "In 1851,' 52 and '53," Richardson said, "Joseph McClure was the only Anglo kid in Alvarado. "He wrote in his journal of how the only children he had to play with were the Caddo Indian children in the Indian camp here," he continued. "There were never any hostilities between the whites and the Indians, who lived here peacefully until the winter of 1855, when the Indians moved East and never returned." Richardson went on to say that he supports the use of the Indian as the mascot, which he sees as an honor to Native Americans. "It's just a sign of qualities we hope to obtain," he said. "An honored thing." After the decision was handed down by the board, Reyes said she was "heartbroken," and asked the board to reconsider. "You made your decision before you had a chance to look at the material Mike gave you," she said, "before you had a chance to hear me speak. Delay your final decision until you have had time to think about this and discuss it. "By making a decision this fast, you do yourself and your community a disservice." Board members thanked Reyes and Wicks for their input, but stood by their decision. Little Black Crow, the Johnson County teenager who brought national recognition to the Alvarado mascot with her internet posting on the subject, said she was disappointed. "I was hoping they'd at least think about it," she said. Among school officials, though, there was relief at a decision on the matter. "I found the [Native Americans] very sincere in what they were saying," Alvarado High School Principal Danny Phillips said. "I don't think, however, that there's anyone in this community with any intent to demean Native Americans." Powerlifting Coach Cole Ferrell said he's glad the board made the decision they did. "I admire what these [Native Americans] have done as far as the trip they took," he said. "I support the Alvarado Community in wanting to keep the Indian name because there's nothing in that name that's disgraceful." Reyes said there are many people across the U.S. and Europe who disagree. Though the woman and her husband had planned originally to spend two weeks driving the 4,000 miles round trip between Alvarado and Tacoma, Wash., she said donations enabled them to fly. "We got money from all over," she said. "People sent us $5, $10, whatever they could. We even got money from Native Americans living in England and Belgium who read about our trip on the internet. "It was enough for us to be able to fly here - we also had a great travel agent who got us a really good deal." Keith Redbull, a Native American who drove in from Louisiana to attend the board meeting, said he was disappointed but not surprised at the board's action. "It just proves what we've been saying," he said. "They see the mascot as more of a real Indian than these people who came here to talk to them." ------------------------------ All Images and stories are property of The Star Group and/or AwE, and may not be used without permission.
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