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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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12 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.

  3. Vp says:

    If the Washington Red….. and Aunt Jemi… is moving on then so too should Arcadia a mostly Asian American community that has has/is facing down It’s own stereotypes and racism. It’s about time. The police department is next.

  4. Troy Buonauro says:

    I am sick and tired of hearing from these self righteous Marxist telling us what we can read, what words we can use, which mascots we can have, which flags we can fly, and that we can’t support the police. This is like little children talking back to adults. This Marxist idea of “appropriation of culture”, is a farce. Arcadia High School has always respected and been proud of our mascot, the Apaches. Arcadia has been a successful school, and has had successful alumni, in many areas of life (business, science, technology, military, service, etc.) Because of this, the Apache name and culture is a recognized part of our culture. Taking away the names and mascots is the first attempt, by Marxists, to eliminate the culture. They claim they are protecting the culture of the tribes of North America, HOW? That is Karl Marx ideology for you. Eliminate the name/word from public life, then you can easily eliminate what the name/word is attached too, making it forgotten. -Arcadia Apache 1981/ B.A. History

  5. Stephen Licata says:

    With regards to the controversy over the Arcadia mascot, please remember that Native American cultures, spanning many thousands of years, were wiped out by European and American government edicts that declared them inferior, backwards and somehow in need of spiritual and material “salvation”. This legacy is quite ugly and deliberate: measles-ridden blankets presented as fur trader “gifts” in the 16th and 17th Century; wars and genocide in the 18th Century; land seizures and broken treaties in the 19th Century; and in the 20th century, U.S. government Indian schools where children were forbidden from speaking their native language and massive programs in the 1950s and 1960s to relocate Indians to large US cities (with no option to return to the reservation). At no time did any of the city leaders across the US even consult with these groups, and ask for their permission, inquire about how they might feel being used as a symbol, or even if it was time to pick a new mascot. Asking an Apache (not really even from this part of California!) to take pride in the accomplishments of the mostly White (and now Asian-American) families is like telling that deer head with antlers that he should be honored to be hanging on the wall in your family den. The problem is not just the use of the symbol; it’s the sense of “entitlement” and the notion that all the abuses of the past are long gone, forgotten and forgiven.

  6. My recall goes back to 1952 re AHS beginning use (Bond issue was in 1951).
    I was in 5th grade (10 years old) attending Highland Oaks School (HOS), Arcadia.
    In 1953 AHS had classrooms for 3 grades- yet only 2 grades of HS students.
    At the same time HOS needed classrooms. Solution was to bus 6th graders to AHS.
    We never saw the big kids. I learned how to Square Dance (w/ a female partner).

    In 1954, AHS now had Juniors. Sophomores, Freshman (now using :”old” 6th graders classrooms). Very efficient. My life continued with a 1959 Graduation from AHS
    with a 2 year stop at First Avenue School (FAS). Never saw a HS student at FAS.

  7. GH says:

    As a third-generation Arcadia resident, I think the Apache mascot should been changed ages ago. To any revisionist morons trying to claim that “never was the image or name used in a derogatory manner”, please note that Apaches were chosen because:
    – they evoked scary “savage” imagery
    – they “matched” the red in the school colors
    – the mascot used to look like this: https://www.facebook.com/ArcadiaHigh.classof1980/photos/a.1655567324667276/1655567371333938/
    While it hasn’t appeared painted on the sides of the school, different AHS classes have also used Red Skins logo imagery as well.
    The selection of the Apache name with an undoubtedly racist caricature to go along with it (in an area that is historically Chumash, not Apache btw) is ignorant at best and intentionally degrading and racist at worst. The mascot has been changed in my lifetime to look “noble” and “respectful” (which still creates its own problems in terms of racist stereotypes), but that was only in an attempt to whitewash the history behind the original mascot choice.
    The “strong partnership” with White Mountain mentioned is a canned food drive that few students participate in and even fewer know the history behind. Bottom line: the way this mascot is used (the racist cartoon, the reason it was chosen, the cheer used for sporting events) is not the transcendent appreciation of culture some older alums pretend it to be. On the contrary, it’s punching down. It’s stereotyping. It’s grabbing a culture you know absolutely NOTHING about and dancing around in it. I don’t know how anyone seeing a crowd of almost entirely white and Asian students (who have ZERO knowledge or context behind what they’re doing) mimicking an “Indian war cry” at football games and thinks there’s nothing wrong with that. Frankly, we need to be better than this.
    If AHS wants to ‘honor’ the Apache, they could start with educating students on their history and the challenges they still face today as the result of generations of racism, genocide, and land theft. I wonder, for example, if the people who say they so ‘proudly’ call themselves Arcadia Apaches know that White Mountain–like many tribes–struggles with a lack of access to clean drinking water, one of many factors that led to a Covid rate of ~10% https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2020/07/17/white-mountain-apache-tribe-dealing-water-shortage-height-covid-19/5447432002/
    Did the same people claiming they have a “close partnership” with White Mountain and “nothing but respect” for the Apache mobilize in any way to address this problem? In the literal generations of canned food drives and posturing, has the school ever fundraised to help get people access to basic necessities like water? Do most Arcadia “Apaches” even KNOW about issues like these? Doubt it.
    Frankly, either step up and be a beacon (education, activism, community awareness, etc.) or step down and choose a different mascot.

    • AS says:

      When students and AHS alumni reached out to the Board of Education regarding this issue, we got no response. A great point that many of us brought up, which you also mentioned, is why AUSD didn’t publicize to the community how COVID19 is impacting the WMAT. Most of the people in the Arcadia community that were sharing information and donating to the WMAT COVID19 Relief Fund were students calling for this emblem to change. I know a handful of students who made fundraising campaigns for the WMAT COVID19 Relief Funds, matching any donation that they got. These were the actions of students who aim to educate the community about the WMAT and change the emblem, not from anyone in the district. Unfortunately, like many of the controversies or scandals that occur in AUSD, we did not get any response or were told it would be resolved at a later time. On July 7, 2020, Dr. Vannasdall said the District would address it at an appropriate time; We have not been informed of anything since. When alumni reached out to the Arcadia Invitational Coordinator informing him that we would be contacting outside sponsors (like Nike) to inform them about the school’s emblem, an AHS admin sent us an email saying the decision would be made far earlier than Spring 2021 (when the Invitational usually takes place). Still, we haven’t heard anything. Most people know this issue is not new, many members of the Arcadia community have questioned emblem for years. What is really important is for Arcadia community members to be consistent in voicing their concerns and calling to action AUSD. There has been a lack of transparency between community members and the district.

  8. A says:

    When students and AHS alumni reached out to the Board of Education regarding this issue, we got no response. A great point that many of us brought up is why AUSD didn’t publicize to the community how COVID19 is impacting the WMAT. Most of the people in the Arcadia community that were sharing information and donating to the WMAT COVID19 Relief Fund were students calling for this emblem to change. I know a handful of students who made fundraising campaigns for the WMAT COVID19 Relief Funds, matching any donation that they got. These were the actions of students who aim to educate the community about the WMAT and change the emblem, not from anyone in the district. Unfortunately, like many of the controversies or scandals that occur in AUSD, we did not get any response or were told it would be resolved at a later time. On July 7, 2020, Dr. Vannasdall said the District would address it at an appropriate time; We have not been informed of anything since. When alumni reached out to the Arcadia Invitational Coordinator informing him that we would be contacting outside sponsors (Nike, Gatorade, etc.) to inform them about the school’s emblem, an AHS admin sent us an email saying the decision would be made far earlier than Spring 2021 (when the Invitational usually takes place). Still, we haven’t heard anything.

  9. Patrick O'Hara says:

    Let’s be honest, no school has a nickname such as the “Idiots,’ the “Fools,’ the “Losers,” or the “Weaklings.’
    They choose a nickname for PRIDE.
    And Arcadia has long celebrated the Apache nickname and logo with pride.

    It’s interesting how all these hair-on-fire woke activists never target the ethnic stereotype inherent in the nickname of the Notre Dame FIGHTING IRISH.
    Nobody complains about the stereotype of Irish immigrants as fighters, brawlers, drunks, or leprechauns.
    And by the same token, none of these woke activists complains about police departments referring to one of their vehicles as “the Paddy wagon,” which as the name suggests, was an intended slur against Paddys (aka, the Irish immigrants.)
    In fact, there aren’t any Irish-Americans who have a nervous breakdown about the fact that Notre Dame has a student dressed up as a little Leprechaun on the sideline of the football games — just like Apache Joe.

    At least Irish-Americans and Notre Dame fans recognize that the “Fighting Irish” is intended as a source of pride, rather than a source of ridicule.

    Our society has more important issues to focus on. Nobody should be developing a stomach ulcer over a nickname of sports teams.

  10. anomous says:

    I am aware of the school’s use of the Apache people as a mascot and in my opinion, it is very cool to hear about a school to use us as a mascot and it brings a sort of pride for me and my people. In the recent attempts to systematically changing the names of NFL teams to changing the names of well-known companies like Uncle Bens Rice, I think that the mascot of this school should stay the same. Since the expansion of the European settlers 400yrs ago, the history of the Native American wasn’t a pleasant sight to see and the slaughter of 100 million people is a scar left in history and to be able to see a school or a football team named after a people that were once considered savage and uncivilized is a unique sight to see. I am also aware of the racism associated with the mascot and the solution to fix this problem is to bring awareness of the struggle and teach the native American side to history and leave out the white mans persuasive and manipulative lies on what they want us to believe about history. With the suppression of the government and the betrayal of a country, the recent history of the native Americans has been surrounded by a black cloud, and to see this school, to use us as a mascot, brings light through that black cloud and brings hope of a better future. I am in full support to let this school keep its mascot. In addition, i think the school can do a better job at punishing racism and the bullying associated with racism

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