Go Warriors Go?
by Jenni "Emiko" Kuida

I went to high school in Westlake Village. When my high school opened in 1978, we were the "orange and blue wrecking crew"-- the mighty Warriors. We were originally supposed to be the Westlake Warriors with the "Roman Warrior" as our mascot.

But when it was learned that our school was built on a former Chumash Indian site, our nickname somehow changed to the "Indian Warriors" as our mascot. At football games, we would yell and scream, while one of the cheerleaders would parade around dressed as an Indian maiden. We had the fighting spirit. Because everyone wants their team to "massacre" the other team, right?

Last week, representatives from the Committee for Native American Rights, the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the American Indian Movement urged board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District to eliminate the use of Indian warrior mascots and logos from its schools. They testified that the use of these images perpetuate racist and negative stereotypes.

After an almost 20 year struggle, Nisei Board Member George Kiriyama introduced the motion to eliminate nicknames and mascots for the Birmingham Braves, University High Warriors, Gardena Mohicans and Wilmington Junior High School. The Board voted unanimously to ban the mascots.

Since then, people have argued that there is no harm intended by the use of such mascots as they honor the traditions and heritage of their school. Others have taken a stronger view saying that "the Native Americans should get a life."

But if the tables were turned, how would we as Japanese Americans feel about having cheerleaders wearing kimonos and bowing with their hands together submissively? What about mascots with slanted eyes, buck teeth, yelling "Banzai!" to honor our Samurai tradition? Are these positive portrayals? I hardly think so.

Would these same people say that we should be proud to be honored with names like the Terminal Island Orientals, Gardena Yellow Skins? After all, aren’t there professional sports teams like the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins?

Or how about the Canton Chinks? That was an actual nickname at a school in Canton, Ohio, until Asian Americans got together and protested to change the name.

An alumni group at University High School in West LA says that they have used the warrior mascot for 75 years and don’t want part of "their" heritage taken away from them. That’s ironic, because whose heritage is it anyways? Seventy-five years is a drop in the bucket when compared to generations of Indian oppression.

I talked with School Board Member Kiriyama about the motion to eliminate the name and mascot, which had been brought to his attention last year by John Orendorff, Jr., Director of the LAUSD American Indian Education Commission. Kiriyama, himself a Uni High School graduate said, "If any group feels that the images are discriminating or demeaning, you have to be sensitive to their feelings... you don’t treat people like mascots."

As a high school student, muralist Tony Osumi, designed his first mural at Uni High School back in 1985. Located on the Boy’s Gym, the mural depicts an Indian warrior.

I asked Osumi if it bothered him as an artist that his mural might be painted over.

"I say invite the media, give every student at Uni a paint brush and paint it over. Make it a victory party for multicultural unity and understanding. Eleven years ago, I didn’t think twice about designing the mural. But after learning more about how America was built by stealing Indian peoples’ land through war and disease, if asked today, I would say, ‘No way.’"

Kudos to the LAUSD Board Members for their support, but especially to the Native Americans who have struggled for years to keep this issue alive. We need to work together to continue this example in surrounding school districts, Little League teams, professional sports, and even car manufacturers.

As Japanese Americans, I encourage us to learn more about Native American issues, or read books by Mary Brave Bird, author of "Lakota Woman" and "Ohikita Woman." Because if we want people to be sensitive to Japanese American issues, then we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about the history and struggles of all peoples.

Oh, and after I finish this column, I’ll be writing a letter to my alma mater at Westlake High School about their mascot.
Jenni Emiko Kuida writes from the Venice/Culver area of Los Angeles and is a 1982 graduate of Westlake High School.

Originally published in The Rafu Shimpo, September 16, 1997

Updated: 11/10/02

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