Molalla and the Molalla River School District Support RACISM via an Indian Mascot Stereotype

It’s been over a year since I entered the fight to end racist stereotyping in Oregon’s public schools. The few backwater, white power privilege towns that cling to Indian mascots should have by now learned all the reasons the 21st Century won’t accept turning our smallest minority into mascot cartoons. But sadly, racism and bigotry die hard (or not at all) in Tea Party, faith based decayed villages like Molalla. You can lead RACISTS to facts but you can’t make them change.

This says it all about Molalla and its schools: tacky, racist and about as honorable as a dog turd.

This says it all about Molalla and its schools: tacky, racist and about as honorable as a dog turd.

So the fight goes on to make sure we STRIKE OUT RACISM AND STEREOTYPES.

I testified to the Oregon Senate Education committee recently and submitted this:

March 28, 2013

Last night at Reed College I attended an amazing seminar called Native American Appropriations designed to explore how popular culture has stolen sacred Native American icons. We were treated to inspiring performances by a variety of young Native Americans in full traditional regalia dancing to a drum circle. I wish everyone in this room could have experienced the pride those youth had for their cultural heritage. A tiny boy only a year and a half old joined the final group dance. Even at that young age he danced fearlessly in front of a huge crowd, imbued with the spirit of the drums and the chants. We learned that those children from the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland are taught the respectful care of their dance regalia, the meaning of the icons and that their cultural heritage is sacred and unique. The seminar went on to feature a discussion about the horrible ways American Indian art and cultural icons have been hijacked and the hard work contemporary Native Americans are doing to regain control and respect for their culture.

I drove back to my home in rural Molalla thinking  how mortified I would be if any of those committed, protective and passionate Native Americans came Molalla and saw the racist, tacky ways Molalla has appropriated Indian symbols, starting with the  lurid orange clip art  Indian cartoon mascot it clings  to in spite of the ban. Molalla High School has rows of lockers stenciled with the heads of Indian chiefs, a giant scoreboard that is a softball with an Indian chief head on top and a soccer meet teepee ceremony. The cheap clip art Indian chief head is used all over town to advertise the local phone company. Students dance, sweat and dribble balls on the head of the Indian chief cartoon embedded on the floor of the gym. A pseudo- Indian ceremony is acted out when school starts at the High School. There is nothing honorable about the use of these symbols in Molalla. Molalla has instituted a culture that’s a 1950’s version of a Walt Disney summer camp for white kids. I am profoundly ashamed to be a taxpayer in the Molalla River School District.

I have spent over a year trying to inform Molalla about the need to move on and abandon the clip art cartoon Indian mascot, so I left that seminar both inspired and dismayed.  I have learned how professional educators and psychologists have found Indian mascots to be destructive to the self image of Native American children because those stereotypes limit their vision of what they can become in contemporary American society. I participated in two hearings last spring before the extremely professional and patient State School Board. The April 27th hearing more than convinced me that all the districts with Indian mascots are failing to teach about the need to respect diversity and civil rights.

A racist 2006 half time display in Molalla featuring a half naked pretend Indian with a target on his chest triggered the the ODE to ask that Districts voluntarily replace Indian mascots by the end of 2011 and yet virtually none did anything to honor that ask. I begged the Molalla school superintendent, high school principal and school board well before the start of the hearings to inform the community about the issues that would surely lead to a ban and my district did nothing. I have written endless published letters and used social media to tell all I was learning about the need to abandon the cartoon lucky charm Indian mascot.

But today, Molalla is still in full denial, not only about the Indian mascot, but also about its deeply entrenched bullying and racial harassment problems. Molalla recently refused free diversity training. The white power privilege thrust in Molalla has gone from using the excuse that it is too expensive to get a new mascot to a school board member recently circulating a poll asking how much the community would be willing to have the district spend to sue the ODE to keep the Indian mascot.

I firmly believe that only by giving the ODE the ability to impose sanctions will we eliminate these horrific racist stereotypes from our public schools. The history and professional testimony about mascots is online at the ODE site and accessible to anyone willing to learn the facts. But I am old enough to have witnessed the denial that accompanies the need for social change, including the struggle in the 60’s for civil rights, the struggle for women’s rights, the fight over Title 9, fights over handicapped access, mainstreaming and the current struggles for Latino rights.

The bills before you would perpetuate racism and would do a huge disservice to all students in districts that cling to racist symbols. There can be no excuse for trolling to find an acceptable level of racism in our public schools. I believe all students should by now have been taught about the contemporary Native American work to gain control and respect for their cultural icons. We should not be sending students out in the world from these  isolated districts believing it is morally acceptable to use our smallest racial minority as their cartoon lucky charms. If you pass these bills, you will be trashing six years of carefully considered work produced by our excellent State DOE; they are the experts we need to trust to provide universal educational opportunities and to protect the civil rights of all students.

I am very proud that the ODE and State Board did the difficult but necessary work to protect vulnerable Native American students and that we are  leading the nation in the need to respect Native American cultural icons. Please don’t undue that important legacy just because a handful of districts cling to racist symbols and refuse to accept the need to address 21st Century inclusion and diversity issues.

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4 Responses to Molalla and the Molalla River School District Support RACISM via an Indian Mascot Stereotype

  1. “Tea Party, faith based decayed villages like Molalla” is the perfect descriptive. I’ve been fighting this fight for a couple of years too; numerous discussions and arguments with many people (especially people from Molalla). The mascot has become a huge part of the local people’s identity, pride and (to a degree), their cultural identity in sort of a skewed way. I can’t remember how many people have told me that they, themselves are “half Indian” or they’re married to a Native American or their mother was this-or-that and THEY support the mascot as if somehow, that is supposed to be authoritative and make the mascots okay with a hint of official approval.
    Another interesting observation is that this topic doesn’t seem to have a particular age demographic. From what I’ve picked up in conversations is that people don’t like change, they don’t like to feel as though they’re racists because they happen to like the mascot, they reject any comparisons to the civil rights movement, women’s voting rights, human ownership or any other controversial topic that we today look back on and wonder how we could have ever believed or functioned believing the things we believed. I’m not trying to draw a comparison between mascots and these huge topics, rather: the mind set that a society can form when they don’t open their eyes and minds. The mascot mindset minimizes the worth of an entire race of people. Let’s not name our sports teams after that race.
    I’ll always wonder- How do some people see this while others don’t?

  2. oregonfirst says:

    Thanks for your insightful reply, Peter. I also wonder why there is an innate moral compass in some people that allows them to have compassion to understand that if even one person in a race is offended (and many, many Native American Tribes and individual Native Americans are offended) the mascots must end. Molalla is faith based to the point it is funny, yet that “faith” doesn’t translate to compassion on this issue. The “faith” in Molalla doesn’t allow independent thought – it’s cult-like, non- questioning, the kind of group think that produced Jonestown. It’s so creepy I hear that one of the biggest church/cults doesn’t even use the Bible – they use their cult leader’s teachings. That cult/church has a horrific thing for young girls called the “Princess Club” that as you can imagine from the name, does NOT teach girls to think on their own. What sane parent in the 21st would foster their child to think she was a “princess”? YUCK!

    I’ve read that the ultra-right is actually hard wired to embrace herd mentality. Maybe that’s why sleazy Molalla not only clings to a racist mascot but flaunts it. I grew up in a racist family but when the 60’s civil rights struggle dawned it only made sense to me to abandon my family’s prejudices and embrace rights for all. That’s clearly not happening here – no students have stepped up and hardly any adults have the courage to call for a mascot change.

    The School Board is so closed minded it would not even broach the subject. I begged them to get ahead of the issue before the State Board even started hearing and they refused. The High School Principle Dalton said he “knew” the mascot had to go – but he did nothing to teach BOTH SIDES of the issues. Scappoose HS formed debate teams and each team debated each side about whether or not their “Indian” mascot was proper. The local Scappoose paper had a great column about that debate and how sometimes, even though it feels like a loss, times change and things like RACIST mascots must change with the times. That’s what a good school should do – teach critical thinking. All Molalla teaches is for its kids to grow up to be as bigoted as their parents. I talked to two different professors of diversity studies – one at PSU and one at OSU. They both gagged when I said “Molalla” and noted that some of their most horrific experiences were trying to teach civil rights and diversity to students who came from Molalla.

    Beware sending any child to the Molalla Public Schools unless you are a Tea Party racist. The School Board is right wing old coots who have no interest in changing with the times. Nepotism is rampant in Molalla government – two brothers serve on the School Board and some are so old and right wing it makes me cringe.

  3. Danielle says:

    Port Townsend High School’s Board just voted to drop their “Redskins” mascot:

    • oregonfirst says:

      Thanks Danielle. I read the article and was happy to see that a school board had the courage to do the right thing in the face of huge white power privilege community blowback. Good job Port Townsend. Let’s hope that Oregon schools with racist “Indian” mascots can step up and do the right thing instead of trying to buck Oregon’s ban. Happily it appears the legislative challenges to Oregon’s ban have failed.

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