Ron Thomas is a third-generation graduate of the Chowchilla High School Redskins, class of ’87. His son is a senior there now and a member of the last Chowchilla High School football team that will be called the Redskins.
Chowchilla is one of four high schools in California that has a Redskins mascot. But by January 2017, there won’t be any. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the California Racial Mascots Act banning the name Redskins from high school football teams by the end of this year.
The law doesn’t sit well with Thomas and many other people from the small Central Valley town of Chowchilla, about 40 miles north of Fresno.
“People around Chowchilla, we’re still salt of the earth, man of the dirt, hard-working people, and it’s like we really don’t like Sacramento coming in and messing with our way of life,” Thomas says.
He says the town’s identity is tied to the Redskins name, so much so that the town isn’t ready to give it up entirely. To honor the high school’s centennial celebration, the Chowchilla City Council recently introduced a plan to put up honorary “Redskin Way” street signs on the road that goes by the school. The original Humboldt Avenue street signs would also remain.
“This is a way to maintain our heritage without losing who Chowchilla is,” says Thomas, who runs a screen-printing business that sells sports clothing with the Redskins logo.
Thomas says he is one-eighth Native American. “I’m a card-carrying member of the Miwok nation out of Mariposa,” he says. The term Redskins doesn’t offend him, he says. He says it honors the Native Americans who lived here many years ago.
But Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown, a student activist at Stanford University and founder of the nonprofit Native Education Raising Dedicated Students, or NERDS, disagrees.
“It doesn’t honor Native Americans,” he says. “It’s offensive and disgusting.” The term Redskins originated when bounty hunters got paid for the scalps of Native Americans, he says.
He says the town shouldn’t use the word anywhere. “The term is a derogatory term. It’s defined as a racial slur,” he says. “This word for a lot of native people brings back really bad memories.”
City Council members declined to comment on the signs. The council is expected to take a final vote this week on whether to make the signs.
|Chowchilla News Day
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