Issue of the Issue: Hart’s mascot change

The controversy surrounding Indian mascots has existed for over 50 years. In 1968, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) released a statement denouncing Indian mascots, believing they harmed the perception of Native Americans in the United States. 

According to the NCAI “The National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest, and most representative national organization that shares the unified voice of hundreds of Tribal Nations representing millions of Native people,” 

In 1968 few schools chose to retire their Indian mascots; many cited their students’ respect and admiration for school traditions linked to their Indian Mascot.

While the national conversation around Indian mascots has existed since 1968, the conversation around Hart High School’s Indian mascot has existed for a much shorter time. The first documented complaints about Hart’s mascot started in the early 2000s. Hart High School made various reforms in response to these complaints, the most significant reform being the removal of a Native American from all official Hart High School merchandise and logos. The Hart staff also banned the usage of headdresses at sporting events due to the cultural importance of the headdress to many native tribes. However, these reforms were soon reversed, causing the controversy to continue into the first and second decade of the 21st century.

The conversation around the Hart mascot restarted June 7th, 2020, when Julia Estrada started a petition to change the Hart High School Indian mascot. Estrada is of Native American descent and felt as though the mascot was disrespectful to her culture and harmful to the mental health of Native American students. Estrada often referred to a study from the American Psychological Association, (APA), which recommended the retirement of Indian mascots. 

“The use of American Indian mascots as symbols in schools and university athletic programs is particularly troubling because schools are places of learning. These mascots are teaching stereotypical, misleading, and, too often, insulting images of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to all students,” claims former APA President Ronald F. Levant, who played a significant role in the study.

Many, however, had strong disagreements with Estrada, believing that the Mascot was an honor to Native Americans, not a disrespect. 

“We need to look at this as an educational opportunity, an opportunity to educate our students about the Native people of the United States,” said Board member Joe Messina, who supported keeping the Mascot.

According to polls conducted by the Hart staff, a slim majority of teachers and students preferred to keep the Indian as Hart high school’s mascot, in combination with additional educational opportunities about Native Americans for the student body. 

July 14th, 2021, just over a year after Estrada started her petition, the William S. Hart High School District School Board voted to retire Hart’s mascot in a 4-1 vote. The board often referred to testimony from Rudy Ortega, a representative from the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, who said that Indian mascots degrade the culture of Native Americans across the country. The Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians represents the dozens of tribes that once lived on the land that now makes up parts of LA County and the Santa Clarita Valley. The board has directed staff at Hart High school to fully retire the mascot by 2025, allowing for the transition to a new mascot that the Hart student body will choose. Early front runners for the new mascot are the bison, hawks, stallions, and rattlesnakes.