Navajo Nation grapples with mascot of Red Mesa High School | KOB 4

Navajo Nation grapples with mascot of Red Mesa High School

Chris Ramirez
Updated: September 11, 2020 06:22 AM
Created: September 10, 2020 10:10 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Pressure is mounting for professional teams to change their logos and mascots.

In July, after 87 years, the Washington football franchise announced it was retiring its Redskins name and logo.  

Many felt it was a slur against Native Americans.  

Major corporate sponsors pressured the team's owner to make the change, and so did the Native American community.

"We've been fighting for this for decades, decades and decades, but we've been silenced and erased and it just feels like a moment now where there is a significant turning point," said Crystal Echo Hawk, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation.

After Washington dropped the Redskins name, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez issued a strong statement.

"For generations, this team name and logo has misrepresented the true history and events that define the term 'Redskins.' History tells us that the term 'Redskins' derived from bounty hunters, which identified Indigenous people by the color of their skin. Bounties were offered for the murder of Native Americans. We must continue to work together to correct these issues and to shed light on the historical and current injustices that affect all indigenous people. One of those remedies is to cease the use of the disparaging terms and logos among all teams and organizations," Nez said.

In the northeast corner of Arizona, on the Navajo Nation, Red Mesa High School uses Redskins as its mascot and logo.

Nearly 100% of the families that send their children to the school are Navajo.

Sarah Lee, a school board member, said the Red Mesa was built in 1974, and the Redskins mascot was adopted.  

"When I was in high school, I mentioned that I was part of the second graduating class of the high school here. At that time, the logo was already there. I don't know who drew it or what the message is behind it. I'm just thinking, we are Native American, so whenever you see a Native on a horse, it represents our community because our livelihood is still ranching-- horses, sheep, cows," she said.

Lee said, at the time, she never thought of the mascot being offensive.

"I thought it was nice and since we are Native," she said.

However, public perception has changed since 1974. 

About five years ago, when pressure started heating up for the Washington Redskins, the team developed a relationship with Red Mesa High School. 

"They were donating sports items to our school, and checks, and monetary donations," Lee said.

The Washington Post reported the Washington football team paid for Red Mesa community members to watch a game in Phoenix.

The gifts, seemingly, to gain favor with the Navajo people who also seemed to embrace their own Redskins mascot.  

But in time, the gifts stopped.

Lee's feelings toward the mascot have changed.

"I think it's kind of derogatory to me," she said. "It feels like a slur."

As a member of the school board, Lee is a person who would have power to get Red Mesa to change its mascot.

"Are we reflecting our reservation good in that way? If we are going to change it, is this still good-- what do you think?  That's what we want to do. We need other people to participate if we are going to reconsider changing the name of our school," Lee said.

Before taking a vote, Lee wants input from the Red Mesa community, the students, and she wants to hear directly from Navajo President Nez.

The superintendent reached out to President Nez's office, inviting him to a school board meeting, so that he can give his opinion on the matter. 

"If we are going to promote our school, our reservation, our scenic byways and everything, that should reflect on our homelands in a real positive way," Lee said.

The Navajo people have worked hard to preserve their history, but some acknowledge that change can be a good thing.

"We want to kind of get away from it," Lee said.

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