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Decades-long Debate Over Arcadia High School’s Use of Apache Imagery Resurfaces

Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referred to the current use of a mascot by AHS. While the school continues to use Apache imagery and names, it no longer uses the sports mascot.

For over 20 years, people have questioned Arcadia High School’s controversial choice of Apache imagery.

The controversy began in September 1997 when members of a local Native American group — the same one that successfully lobbied the Los Angeles school board — came to an Arcadia school board meeting to denounce the use of the Apache as a mascot. In response, the Student Council began digging deep and yet, nothing changed.

In the late 1990s, Native American activists threatened to sue Arcadia High School over its use of the mascot. Native American activists and many Arcadia community members viewed the high school’s use of Native American symbols — including an “Apache Joe” mascot (which is no longer used), the Pow Wow school newspaper, the “Apache News” television program, the “Smoke Signals” news bulletin boards, the school’s auxiliary team’s marching “Apache Princesses” and opposing football team fans’ “Scalp the Apaches” signs — as being offensive. The school consulted with Native American groups and made some concessions but never changed the mascot.

Perhaps now, in 2020 — the year of massive protests and change in the U.S. — another look at Arcadia High’s logo and name may be in order. In an era of radical racial division and discord, countless symbols of rampant racism, from Confederate statues to Aunt Jemima pancake syrup and Uncle Ben’s rice, are suddenly being knocked down or put into the national discussion.

A local pharmacist, Mark Burstyn, has recently penned a letter of concern to the Arcadia school board and Superintendent David Vannasdall.

“As a 20-year resident of Arcadia, and 30-year resident of the San Gabriel Valley, I never understood how Arcadia’s mascot was an Apache.

“Over dinner last night my son, Steven, Arcadia Class of 2013 mentioned, ‘How can Arcadia still be called the Apaches?’

“The Apache name needs to go. If not now, when? No more excuses about getting the approval from the White Mountain Tribe to use the name and donating some canned food yearly.

“A new mascot does not need to be decided right away, but the Apache name and mascot needs to dropped immediately.

“Let us put into action the words of Superintendent Vannasdall: ‘As an educational body, we commit to listening, learning, reflecting, and acting to stand against racism. We can be better, and we will do better, as we move forward to creating a socially-just society for our students.’

“A good start is dropping the Apache mascot.”

Arcadia Weekly reached out to Arcadia High School Officials and other city officials for comment and will bring you those responses as warranted.

Responding to Burstyn’s letter, AUSD Superintendent David Vannasdall said, in part:

“This is a topic that is very personal and close to my heart and I am disappointed that you did not reach out to me or a board member over the last 20 years to understand the ‘why’ behind this issue whether you agree with it or not. I have been traveling to the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona along with staff, parents and board members for 15 years now, 15 of the 20 years we have had a strong partnership with the tribe community and council. You may not know this but the Apache tribe has only granted the use of their name twice in their history, once to the U.S. Government for the Apache helicopter and the other one to Arcadia Unified Schools in recognition of our strong partnership that has endured for many years with annual cultural exchanges. Our high school has a student Apache Commission that is responsible for presenting anything with the Apache name on it to the tribe council annually for approval. As you probably know from research, we do not have a mascot but instead an emblem co-designed by the Apache tribe. The respect between our school district and the Apache tribe is rooted in respect and the desire for cultural exchange.

“For me, I will continue to honor the relationship we have between Arcadia and The White Mountain Apache People and, personally, the people I am fortunate to call my friends regardless of the name. I believe revisiting this issue both with the White Mountain Apaches and the community on a regular basis is wise.”

At the School Board Meeting Tuesday, another resident of Arcadia questioned the need for AHS to have the Apache logo.

Additionally, a former Arcadia High student contacted Arcadia Weekly when the story first broke Monday.

“Recently, several past and present Student Council Apache Commission chairs and alumni have come together to organize the effort toward changing the Apache designation and improving our relationship with the White Mountain Apaches, without the use of their name. Included in that effort is a call to change the school’s Native American imagery listed in the article such as the Apache Pow Wow newspaper or Apache “war cries” chanted at football games,” said Sarah Wang, now at UCLA.

Shayan Farooq, an alumna of Arcadia High School is working with fellow alumni and classmates to address the issue as well. This group of students is organizing to encourage the AHS administration to drop the logo in favor of something more significant (perhaps, as classmate Vivian Wang recommended, an animal important to the White Mountain Apaches) while continuing programs and initiatives to support the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Much of this work is being done through a Change.org petition, by sending emails to the administration, and donating to the tribe’s COVID-19 relief fund.

Farooq shared, “In the past, many students discussed the inappropriate nature of this mascot, regardless of AHS’s donations to and support for the WMAT. The current momentum of activist groups nationwide is galvanizing, which is why we are using this moment to rectify a wrong. Activism begins at home, locally, and we believe that proper education acknowledges and refutes racism in every form.” 

This group of students finds Superintendent Vannasdall’s response in a private email to another concerned student to be “largely unsatisfying.”

We’d like to hear your thoughts on the subject for inclusion in the ongoing discussion. Please email comments/concerns to tmiller@beaconmedianews.com.

June 22, 2020

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Decades-long Debate Over Arcadia High School’s Use of Apache Imagery Resurfaces”

  1. It would be so easy to transition to just using the ‘A’ and becoming the As. Not as much fun, but the correct thing to do. I have heard the some tribes like the association with Arcadia, however.

  2. Lucia Thurman says:

    Once again I am disgusted with the busy-bodies in Arcadia. As part of the Class of 82 and Sports Editor of the Pow Wow newspaper for two years, I was and still am proud to call myself an Apache. Never was the image or name used in a derogatory manner and we were all proud to call ourselves Apaches. I still hold that pride. Erasing it will not change that but erasing it is some people’s way of erasing personal guilt about their past behavior and misdirecting it to something they have no part of. I met some Native Americans in Arizona on vacation once and asked them if they wanted us to eliminate references in our culture. She said “no.” She said if we erase these images from our everyday lives, the Native Americans will be forgotten by society. Just like what is happening today, the more you erase, the more you forget. As always, Apache Proud.

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