Change the Mascot: La Puente High School

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Miyiiha (Hello),

My name is Kelly Leah Stewart, I am an alumni of La Puente High School (LPHS); I graduated from the school in 1999.  I also want to note that I am of Luiseno and Gabrielino-Tongva descent. I am starting this petition to discuss the removal of the “Warrior” mascot and name from LPHS, specifically the use of the Plains Indian, known as Tommy Tomahawk. This petition is difficult to start, as it may result in extreme backlash from so many alumni, but it is necessary.
 
I know that many alumni of LPHS find great pride in the “Warrior” mascot, as do many people who reside in the city of La Puente. They have fond memories of events in the “wigwam,” doing the Tomahawk hand gesture during pep rallies & football games, many may have even repeated the rumor that the high school (and city for that matter) was “built on an Indian burial ground,” and some may look upon the Plains Indian mascot with pride. Many people may even think that all of these things “honors” Native peoples. Let me say... IT DOESN’T! It didn’t back then, it doesn’t today.
 
I’m sure you might wonder “Kelly, where are these feelings coming from?”  Well, I am a descendant of the original inhabitants of the land you know as La Puente, the land that LPHS sits on. We are called Tongva. We have always, and will always be, the original peoples of this land. LPHS is part of the unceded Tongva village of ‘Ahwiinga. Tongva people continue to live throughout La Puente (as well as many other parts of the LA Basin  and So Cal), and my family is just one of many. My ancestors have occupied this land since time immemorial. Before you take offense, please know that there are many studies that discuss the harmful effects that Indians as mascots have on Native students (see: Fryberg, 2004; Kim-Prieto, Goldstein, Okazaki & Kirschner, 2010; Pewewardy, 2000; Chaney, Burke & Burkley, 2011; Fryberg, Markus, Oyserman & Stone, 2008; Davis, 2002; Jacobs, 2014; Stegman & Phillips, 2014), and I can honestly say it is 100% true! These studies have demonstrated that the use of American Indians as mascots - as well as terms such as Redskins, Indian, and/or Warrior - is detrimental to the wellbeing of Native students, their academic performance, and their self-esteem and identity as Indigenous peoples.
 
During my time at LPHS, seeing the mascot EVERYDAY made me ashamed to tell people I was Native, and I am sure that my fellow Native students at the school and in the region felt the same way. I felt that speaking up would result in being bullied more than I already was. It was assumed that I was just white, because I was fair skinned, light-eyed with freckles. I didn’t fit the stereotypical image of a “Native American.” I was constantly told that I wasn’t “Mexican enough” to fit in. And that is true. I was never “Mexican enough” because I am California Indian, Luiseno & Tongva. The bullying I endured was detrimental to my psychological well-being, and I know I am not alone in these feelings. Native students all over the country have to fight back against the stereotypes of Native peoples on a daily basis. For me personally, I left the school with extremely low self-esteem and identity as a Indigenous woman; and these negative impacts were only healed through embracement of my Indigeneity through positive representations of California Indian peoples.
 
The use of Native imagery and names isn’t just offensive, it goes against California legislation. In 2015, the state of California passed “AB-30 School or athletic team names: California Racial Mascots Act.” The Act stated that:
       (a) The use of racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames in California public schools is antithetical to the California school mission of providing an equal education to all.
       (b) Certain athletic team names, mascots, and nicknames that have been used and remain in use by other teams, including school teams, in other parts of the nation are discriminatory in singling out the Native American community for the derision to which mascots or nicknames are often subjected.
       (c) Many individuals and organizations interested and experienced in human relations, including the United States Commission on Civil Rights, have concluded that the use of Native American images and names in school sports is a barrier to equality and understanding, and that all residents of the United States would benefit from the discontinuance of their use.
       (d) No individual or school has a cognizable interest in retaining a racially derogatory or discriminatory school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname. (California Racial Mascots Act, 2015)
 
Furthermore, Professor Joely Proudfit (Luiseno), chair of the American Indian Studies Department at California State University, San Marcos states: "There's no redeeming quality of the word 'Redskin' but to try to soften the blow by using 'Tribe' or 'Indian' or 'Warrior' is nonsensical. It just shows that the proponents of keeping these types of words in there don't understand or refuse to understand the harmful effects of stereotyping one particular population” (Sinn & Dylan, 2017). In other words, these images and words have extremely harmful effects - emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically - on Native students. In addition, they perpetuate the erasure and continued oppression and marginalized of Native peoples.
 
La Puente High School - originally named Puente Union High School - was founded in 1915, and is known as “the home of the warriors” (McKay, 1961, p. 32).  It opened September 1915 to “fifty-nine students and seven teachers” (McKay, 1961, p. 32). According to McKay, the “Warrior” name was given to the institution, as:
       During the excavation, many relics such as mortars, pestles and tools used by the Indian natives [the Tongva of ‘Ahwiinga] of the area were found, these were collected and displayed until the 1930s when most were lost or stolen...  Tribute to the memory of the aborigines is perpetuated in the names of the school. The athletic contestants are called Warriors and Papooses. The yearbook is called Imagaga, meaning to give pleasure, and the school newspaper, the Tomahawk. A handbook for the students is called Smoke Signals. Many of the club names are Indian in origin. (McKay, 1961, pp. 31-32)
In other words, the “Warrior” name was given after the decimation of Tongva cultural sites, the unsanctioned display of Tongva cultural items, and the loss and theft of these items. The naming of the school, yearbook, newspaper, and athletes did not honor Tongva peoples and culture; rather, perpetuating and further advancing a stereotype that all Native peoples resemble Plains Indians, and maintain the same cultural practices. These “names” perpetuated the erasure of California Indian peoples, specifically the Tongva.
 
Fast forward to 2020, the school’s vision focuses on “Helping [ALL] students grow academically through community, rigor, relevance, and accountability” (LPHS School Website). Retaining a Native mascot and name, that is racially offensive - as well as mocks Native culture, traditions and history - does not assist Native students achieve academic success. This vision does not take into consideration the local Tongva community, resulting in a lack of accountability to the original inhabitants and their descendants. The “Warrior” mascot does not honor the Tongva people, let alone Native people overall. Tommy Tomahawk is an image of a Plains Indian, and his regalia is far from representative of the unique culture of California Indians, specifically that of my Tongva ancestors.

I ask that you sign this petition for the removal of the “Warrior” name and mascot. If you would also like to contact the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Board members, their emails are as follows:
·       President: Anthony Duarte – GADuarte@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Vice President: Joseph K. Chang - jkchang@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Clerk: Gino Kwok - gkwok@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Member: Jeffrey De La Torre - JDeLaTorre@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Member: Martin G. Medrano - mamedrano@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
 
To contact the school directly, please email:
·       Principal: Fernando Sanchez – fsanchez@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Assistant Principal: Candace Cayer - ccayer@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Assistant Principal: Jann Hopp - jhopp@hlpusd.k12.ca.us
·       Assistant Principal: Jeff Stephanik - jstephanik@hlpusd.k12.ca.us