A Look at the New California Law Banning Public Schools from using the term Redskins

As widely reported here, here, and here, California is now the first state in the nation to enact legislation forbidding all public schools from using the term Redskins for school or team names, mascots, or nicknames.

From the L.A. Times:

As of Jan. 1, 2017, all public schools will be barred from using the term “Redskin,” which many Native Americans consider a racial slur. The measure by Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) will allow schools that use materials that contain the term, such as uniforms, to phase out their use to alleviate cost concerns. The new law will affect four California high schools in Merced, Calaveras, Tulare and Madera counties.

The legislation, called the California Racial Mascots Act, was approved by the Governor on October 11.  It includes the following findings:

(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.

The legislation provides that, “[B]eginning January 1, 2017, all public schools are prohibited from using the term Redskins for school or athletic team names, mascots, or nicknames.”  It also includes provisions that ameliorate the financial impact that this new law might otherwise cause for schools that use the term Redskins.  It allow schools to continue to use uniforms or materials bearing the term Redskins after January 1, 2017 as long as the school selects a new school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname, and the school does not purchase new uniforms or other materials such as yearbooks, newspapers, marquees, signs or other fixtures that bear the term.  The targeted schools will essentially be able to slowly progress toward elimination of the use of word Redskins on team uniforms and materials as they purchase new uniforms and equipment in the ordinary course of replacing these items.

Although California is the first state to use legislation to ban public school use of Redskins, it is not the first state to adopt a state-wide measure that phases out use of the term. In 2012, the Oregon State Board of Education adopted a resolution and final rule that prohibits the use of any Native American mascot by a public school on or after July 1, 2017.  For those interested in the findings and sources relied upon the Oregon Board of Education in reaching its decision to adopt the rule, the Board’s final report on the use of Native American mascots is available here.  Some may also be interested in a 2014 report on Native American mascots in schools produced by the Center for American Progress, which is available here.

California and Oregon aside, there remain 21 states representing 58 high schools in the U.S. that use Redskins as a team name or mascot.  These schools are marked on the map below.  Many more schools throughout the U.S. use other Indian mascots, such as Indians, Warriors, Braves, and Chieftans.

Map of high schools that use the Redskins name

Interestingly, the area of lower Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have the highest concentration public high schools using the name Redskins, constituting nearly half of the schools on the map.  This “Redskins Belt” includes six Michigan high schools, identified on the list and map below.

List of Michigan high schools that use Redskins as a name or mascot   Map of Michigan public high schools using Redskins name

Past efforts to ban the use of Native American mascots throughout the state of Michigan have been unsuccessful.  In 2013, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights on behalf of all present and future students who self-identify as American Indians, alleging that thirty-five schools in Michigan engage in the continued use of American Indian mascots, names, nicknames, logos, and other imagery, creating a hostile environment and denying equal rights to all current and future American Indian students.  The complaint was dismissed because, in an effort to protect students from a possible backlash at their schools, the Michigan Dept. of Civil Rights offered empirical studies that supported the psychological harm experienced by American Indian students in lieu of specific examples of race-based incidents and the identity of students and individuals who suffered specific harm because of the alleged discrimination.  The US Dept. of Education Office for Civil Rights concluded that these omissions rendered the complaint insufficient to support an inference that racial discrimination had occurred or was occurring.

For states like Michigan with public schools that continue to use Indian mascots, the strategies pursued in California and Oregon provide new examples of pathways to successfully banning Indian mascots. One thing is clear, however.  Any state that takes seriously 1) its commitment to ensure that students are not subjected to unlawful discrimination in public schools on the basis of race or color and 2) its obligation to provide an educational environment that is not hostile and that promotes educational attainment for all,  should closely examine the effect of and potential prohibition of the use of Indian mascots in schools.

A Resurgance of the Stanford “Indian” Mascot

By Adrienne K., here.


To us this post echos the recent decision by EMU to reinstate their mascot. It shows the pernicious after-effects (40 YEARS after Stanford changed their mascot, this is the result) of Indian mascots. This is the kind of thing that leads to the backwards changes in official mascot decisions.

North Dakota Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to UND Board on Fighting Sioux; Nickname “Killed”

Here is the opinion in Davidson v. State. Briefs and oral argument materials are here. And the UND Board “killed” the nickname.

An excerpt:

Eight members of the Committee for Understanding and Respect (“plaintiffs”) appeal from a district court judgment dismissing their action against the State Board of Higher Education to enforce a settlement agreement in a prior lawsuit by the University of North Dakota (“UND”) and the Board against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) and to enjoin the Board from shortening the time period for the Spirit Lake Tribe and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to consider approving or rejecting UND’s use of the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo. Because we conclude the district court did not err in interpreting the language of the settlement agreement, we affirm.


The plaintiffs, enrolled members of the Spirit Lake Tribe, thereafter sued the Board, alleging its proposed termination of the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo before November 30, 2010, violated the settlement agreement and seeking to enjoin the Board from terminating the nickname and logo before November 30, 2010. The plaintiffs claimed the settlement agreement precluded termination of the nickname and logo before November 30, 2010, and the Board was contractually bound to make a good-faith effort to obtain namesake approval from both tribes during that time.


Although the language of the settlement agreement recognizes the North Dakota Sioux Tribes have important contributions in determining whether the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo should be used by UND and the agreement requires UND to continue to solicit the views of the two tribes on the use of the nickname and logo, we do not construe that language to require UND to continue using the nickname and logo through November 30, 2010.

Spirit Lake Tribal Council approves “perpetual” use of the Fighting Sioux name for UND

From the Grand Forks Herald:

Tribal Council approves ‘perpetual’ use of Fighting Sioux nickname

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Grand Forks Herald
Updated: 09/19/2009 12:26:18 PM CDT

The Spirit Lake Tribal Council issued a new resolution Friday that gives the University of North Dakota the “perpetual” use of the Fighting Sioux nickname, nickname supporters from the reservation said.

In a statement, Eunice Davidson, a pro-nickname activist, said she felt that a previous resolution of support had been misconstrued by nickname opponents. The new resolution would leave no doubt where the Tribal Council stood, she said.

Nickname opponents had said the earlier resolution merely said there was an election and a majority of tribal members supported the nickname — 67 percent voted “yes” in April — but did not state that the council was also behind the nickname.

The new resolution left little room for doubt. A key provision says: “The Tribal Council hereby amends tribal resolution No. A05-09-186 and affirmatively approves and supports UND’s use of the current nickname and related imagery, and hereby confirms Spirit Lake Tribe’s full permission for UND to continue using the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo and the duration of this authorization shall be perpetual commencing Oct. 1, 2009.”

The council also added this: “UND is entrusted with the responsibility of working cooperatively with the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe to increase the number of Native American graduates from Spirit Lake and to create a Native American program on UND campus which will bring about an air of respect and understanding amongst all students, faculty and staff at UND.”

Before the new resolution, Spirit Lake nickname opponents had hoped they would be able to get the council to reverse its support.

One of them, Terry Morgan, said Thursday that opponents would meet this weekend and mobilize for a meeting with the council next week.

But Friday night, on hearing news of the new resolution, Erich Longie, another nickname opponent, said, “Maybe this is a sign they’re saying they don’t want to meet with us.”

He rested his hopes on future councils, he said. The resolution might say “perpetual,” but he said resolutions aren’t perpetual, meaning future councils could issue new resolutions opposing the nickname.

Nickname opponents will never quit, he said, and will work toward another referendum to get voters to oppose the nickname. If that one doesn’t succeed, he said, opponents would put out another referendum. “We will not quit until we get the results we want.”

Davidson was not available Friday. Her statement was issued through Ralph Engelstad Arena, which also supports the nickname.

Under the settlement between the state and the NCAA, which considers American Indian nicknames to be “hostile and abusive,” UND has to win approval from the state’s two Sioux tribes. It has until February to do that, but the State Board of Higher Education had moved the deadline up to Oct. 1.

The board also required a 30-year agreement allowing use of the nickname from both tribes.

Board member Grant Shaft, who effectively has the nickname portfolio, said a binding agreement between the state and the tribes is what the board wants. This is necessary because resolutions can be undone by future councils, which would force UND to go through the same struggle it’s going through now, he said.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, whose interpretation Shaft said the board would defer to, has said he believes a resolution giving authorization for a certain period of time is sufficient to satisfy the NCAA settlement.

Standing Rock nickname supporters are working on a petition to get the council there to issue a referendum on the nickname, but they will not be ready by the Oct. 1 deadline.

They asked the state board to extend the deadline Thursday, but the board did not comment one way or the other.

Reach Tran at 701-780-1248; 800-477-6572, ext. 248; or send e-mail to ttran(at)gfherald.com.

To see more of the Grand Forks Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.grandforks.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Grand Forks Herald, N.D.

andre douglas pond cummings on American Indian Sports Mascots

andre douglas pond cummings has posted “Progress Realized?: The Continuing American Indian Mascot Quandary,” published in the Marquette Sports Law Journal, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

To some, American Indian mascots represent strength, power, reverence, and dignity. For others, Native American mascots are deeply offensive and mock tradition and sacred culture. Historically, professional and collegiate athletic teams have unabashedly sported American Indian mascots and monikers, and it has not been until recent decades that this issue has arisen as offensive or insensitive. In the past thirty or so years, there have been many high school and university administrations that have voluntarily switched their team mascot and moniker from an American Indian to a race-neutral one. Still, some university administrations and many professional sports franchises strenuously eschew calls to remove these racially insensitive mascots, believing that their moniker represents tradition and honor and as such remains a vital part of school or team tradition. These proponents argue that the elimination of their Native American mascot at their sporting events would destroy the cultural fabric of their respective institutions. Therefore, the use of these mascots is justified in the minds of these proponents.

Still, some identifiers indicate that as a society, we have entered into a period where more Americans are aware that American Indian mascots offend Native Americans and other non-native U.S. citizens alike. This enlightenment has resulted in the increasing number of sporting teams that have voluntarily changed their offensive mascot and moniker. That said, some institutions, such as the University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux) and Florida State University (Seminoles) and the University of Utah (Utes) continue to field mascots and monikers that many view as hostile and abusive.

The law and popular opinion continues to evolve while some cling desperately and unapologetically to derogatory traditions.

Wisconsin Badgers Now to Play Schools with Indian Names & Mascots

From the Badger Herald: “The University of Wisconsin will now be able to schedule games against teams with American Indian symbols and names after the Faculty Senate approved a new policy regarding athletic competitions Monday.

“According to the new policy, UW may schedule competitions with schools that are not on the NCAA list of colleges and universities subject to restrictions.

“The Badgers are now permitted to play schools including Central Michigan University, Florida State University, Mississippi College and the University of Utah — all of which have American Indian names, because tribes have endorsed the use of their names and, therefore, the universities are not subject to NCAA restrictions.

“American Indian Student Academic Services Coordinator, Aaron Bird-Bear said UW recently updated its mascot policy to reflect the 2005 NCAA mandate reviewing American Indian mascots in higher education.

“Bird-Bear said UW’s initial American Indian mascot policy was issued 12 years prior to the NCAA’s 2005 mascot review.”

Native Heritage Month at MSU

You can download the calendar here: MSU Native Heritage Month Calendar

Highlights include Pat LeBeau’s talk on mascots on the 7th and NALSA’s panel, Tribal Extinction, featuring Marilyn Vann of the Cherokee Freedmen, on the 9th.