The Oklahoma City school board on Monday night heard arguments from Native American students opposed to the name used by a local high school, then unanimously voted to force the school to change the “Redskins” nickname it has held for 88 years.
The name faced opposition from students, American Indian organizations, teachers, and the city’s schools superintendent, all of which told board members that the name was racist and offensive. According to the Oklahoman, the vote was barely contentious, as it has been in other districts, and the board will now assemble a committee of students, teachers, and administrators to help find a new name.
“I was actually surprised about how well-received it was. I thought that I would have to do more education on our end to let them learn about the word,” Star Yellowfish, the district’s administrator for American Indian student services, told the Oklahoman. “But they get it. They got it, and they care about our kids.”
The name change comes at a time when use of Native American mascots, and the name “Redskins” in particular, is receiving more scrutiny across the country, in part thanks to campaigns targeting Washington’s NFL team. The arguments students, teachers, and Native American leaders made against Capitol Hill High School’s name mirror many of those made against Washington’s, including that it is offensive terminology that has damaging effects on Native American students and youths (opponents of such names have pointed to psychological and sociological research and opposition to support those claims).
And while Washington’s defenders, including owner Daniel Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, have pointed to its endurance and history to argue that it is an honor or symbol of respect, the length of time the high school used the name clearly held no weight in the Oklahoma decision. Capitol Hill High School has used “Redskins” as its mascot since 1926, seven years before Washington first adopted it.
The leaders of the nationwide Change The Mascot campaign, which has asked Washington’s professional football team to drop its use of “Redskins” as a mascot, congratulated the school in a joint statement Tuesday.
“On behalf of the Change the Mascot movement we would like to express our admiration for the Oklahoma City school board and the broader community for their courageous actions this week,” the leaders said. “Capitol Hill High School had used this offensive term for their mascot for nearly 90 years. Washington’s NFL team and its owner Dan Snyder, who insist upon continuing to slur people of color with the R-word, could certainly learn a lot from the conscientious community in Oklahoma City. Their actions demonstrate to Snyder that clinging to outdated and offensive epithets out of tradition and a desire to profit from the continued marketing of a slur are not nearly as important as doing the right thing and choosing to stand on the right side of history.”
While Washington’s name remains, names continue to change — or stir controversy — at the high school level, where these fights have taken place for decades. It was the decision of Cooperstown Central High School in New York to drop its “Redskins” name that inspired the Oneida Indian Nation to help launch the Change The Mascot campaign in 2013, while students at Neshaminy High School in Pennsylvania have challenged that school’s use of the name. The NCAA began efforts to rid its athletic teams of such mascots in 2005, while in recent years, multiple states have ordered or considered reviews of mascots that utilize Native American or banned such names altogether, though recently, there have been efforts to make it easier to keep those names as well.