Education, News

Former Mayor, Students Reflect on Continuing Controversy Over Apache Imagery Use at AHS

Last week we received numerous letters and phone calls regarding the page one story on Arcadia High School’s use of Apache imagery. One former student, Jill Flanders, who graduated in 2018 questions why the school newspaper is called “The Pow Wow,” the news television program (which she was a producer and reporter for) is called “Apache News,” the school bulletin board is called “Smoke Signals,” the marching band’s auxiliary team has performers dress up as “Apache Princesses.”

An issue of the Apache Pow Wow from May/June 2019. – Courtesy image

In a letter to Arcadia Unified School District (AUSD) Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall, Flanders looks back at her years at the school and seriously questions the school’s continued usage of the Apache theme and word(s) related to the tribe. Flanders wrote:

“I think back to Friday nights at football games, looking forward to the end of night tradition of singing out at the end of the Alma Mater song with the band’s Apache War Cry, because we needed a way to show our school spirit. I assume these traditions still hold.

“By these representations, it seems like the Apaches are still Arcadia’s mascot. Can you blame me, or Mr. Burstyn or the 1,342 other people who have signed the new petition for thinking that?

“I work in the film industry and sometimes we shoot scenes on sacred land. Much like your organization, our team works with the leadership of local indigenous people to make sure they are protected, honored, and benefiting from our presence. We co-host blessing ceremonies with the participation of our entire crew and we produce beautiful content for use on social media using our platform to amplify the voices of the people we are working with, connecting them with millions of viewers globally.

“I certainly recognize how complicated the relationship with the White Mountain Apache tribe is and how it may seem like an injustice to propose turning away from the history we have as two communities united in this unique way. However, I have seen many productive ideas out there and don’t see anyone petitioning for the relationship to be diminished.

“The school ought to maintain a relationship with the tribe and work on a true partnership where students learn more actively about the injustices the indigenous people in our country continue to live with. All Arcadia students need to learn how to apply their talents to helping people, beyond donating scraps (canned food, jackets, blankets, spare change). Arcadia alumni should graduate with the same passion for social justice that Martin Plourde felt when he met with the White Mountain Apache tribe some 20 years ago. Students should be aware of the ongoing progress (or lack thereof) in the fight for justice in our sister community and what tools they have as citizens to demand better for their brothers and sisters. They should compare and contrast the tribe’s progress with the progress made in Arcadia with the use of public funds.

“Statues, busts, bronze seals, display cases all feel like appropriate ways to honor a complicated history and ongoing relationship. As an emblem, the Apache symbol should only be used in places of high honor on campus, the same place you might put the statue of a president or a photograph of your grandmother.

“Apaches should not be on clothing.

“Apaches should not be painted as murals on the metal siding on ugly buildings.

Arcadia students should not be referred to as Apaches.”

One signer of the aforementioned petition, Rafael Gomez, wrote on “I recommend that while we push for this, we equally ask that all initiatives and programs created that support the White Mountain Apaches be maintained (the Fall Money Drive, the Ed Schreiner Memorial Toy and Jacket Drive, the Spring Money Drive, and the Bikes, Trikes, Scooters, and Skates). If those donations and support cease after changing AHS’ “iconography,” that would reflect that AHS was paying for the use of the image. If AHS does believe in the continuous support of the White Mountain Apaches, then that programming should continue.”

The Apache logo. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

Longtime former city councilman and Mayor Gary Kovacic piped in on the debate at the request of Beacon Media News:

“As an alumnus of Arcadia High School (Class of 1969) and life-long resident of Arcadia, I am aware of the evolution of the Apache iconography at our high school and the high school’s relationship with the White Mountain Apache Tribe. In fact, it was my honor as mayor of Arcadia to attend a Tribal Council meeting in Arizona to celebrate our city’s close relationship with the tribe. Superintendent Vannasdall’s statement accurately reflects my understanding of all that has transpired between the school district and the tribe in the spirit of mutual respect and admiration. Additional information about that relationship also appears in an essay in my first book ‘Visions of Arcadia.’

“Recent events in our society, however, have called upon all of us to explore how words and symbols can either uplift or demean a culture. It would be presumptuous for me, as a non-indigenous person, to speculate what the true impact of our high school’s use of the Apache name is on the Apache Nation. Along with the ongoing dialog in our community, hopefully our school leaders can have an updated conversation with tribal leaders about the use of the word Apache.

“In his seminal book ‘Future Shock,’ Alvin Toffler wrote: ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’ The issue about the Apache name is a great opportunity for relearning, community building, and teachable moments. Hopefully, a solution will be found that both honors the many contributions of our nation’s indigenous people and moves our education community forward.”

Not all our correspondents felt the need to change the name. For example, Don Rollo from Arcadia said, in part:

I feel that Arcadia High School should NOT change their name from the Apaches just to appease a few people that don’t really understand what the Apache Nation stands for. 

“The Apaches stand for being powerful, brave, fearless — both the father and mother taught their children to have good manners, kindness, fortitude, and obedience. So being an Apache is being all of those things and if the students of Arcadia High School can strive to be like the proud Apache Nation, this world can be a much better place to live…”

Thus far no action has been taken by the school board or administrators. Please continue to let us know your thoughts and opinions on this or any other Arcadia related issue at hand by sending an email to

June 30, 2020

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2 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Former Mayor, Students Reflect on Continuing Controversy Over Apache Imagery Use at AHS”

  1. white male class of 2014 says:

    what a complete joke, wake up idiots. you dont choose a mascot name because the mascot is weak (which is what you closeted racists are projecting), you choose it because you respect it and value it. arcadia HS and all students there are a complete joke, thank god i only went there freshman year and went to an actual institution of higher education!

    i say get rid of the entire high school, not just the mascot

  2. Terry Miller says:

    Thank you for your letter:

    We do NOT publish anonymous or offensive letters.

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