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updated 6/10/2005 2:05:47 PM ET 2005-06-10T18:05:47

The California state Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would ban the use of the term ''Redskin'' at the state's public schools. The June 8 hearing was at times tense and emotional.

The bill passed the committee on a party line 7 - 4 vote, with Democrats favoring the legislation and Republicans opposing.

One of the main witnesses to testify at the meeting was Assemblyman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, the bill's sponsor. Goldberg, who sits on the Assembly Education Committee, answered questions for her Senate counterparts on why she felt the bill was necessary.

Offensive epithet
''It [the term ''Redskin''] is equivalent to other derogatory words,'' said Goldberg who equated the term to the most offensive epithets for Asians and African-Americans.

Goldberg also cited the recent move by the National Collegiate Athletic Association to question the use of American Indian mascots as evidence of a movement away from the potentially offending mascot names.

Calaveras High School is one of five California public schools that carry the nickname. Former Calaveras student Derek Bradly equated the term to representing Japanese as Samurais or Europeans as marauding Vikings.

He also showed a blown-up photo of the football coach at Calaveras High School adorned in presumably American Indian regalia while wearing a devil mask. ''How is that honoring American Indians?'' Bradly questioned.

Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, said there were such cases as the University of Notre Dame's use of the ''Fighting Irish'' mascot, which depicted the Irish as drunk brawlers. Denham said that the community at Notre Dame, located in South Bend, Ind., had worked gradually to modify the caricature to be less offensive.

Denham used that as an example of one way that a community could come together to solve the problem, adding that he felt local school boards could best handle the issue and that change should take place at that level.

''I tell people to start at their school board,'' said Denham.

However, supporters of the bill said that local control was not an acceptable option. They argued that local passions often run high, and when they try to effect change at that level they are often shut out.

One witness said that oftentimes when the issue is brought to a school board, supporters of the Redskin mascot turn out en masse and vote it down.

''Basically, they just vote on it and say 'we win,''' said the unidentified speaker at the hearing.

Other witnesses opposed to the bill cited a 2002 Sports Illustrated poll that said around three-quarters of American Indians did not think that American Indian mascots contributed to discrimination.

Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, said that the poll numbers did not matter because some do find the term offensive. ''It's pejorative in its origin and offensive in its use,'' said Torlaklson.

Testifying on behalf of the bill, Calaveras resident Sue Tasso, Cheyenne and Creek, concurred and said she personally knew how offensive the word was because she was ''called a dirty Redskin'' when she was a child.

Tensions and passions
Tensions and passions were evident during the hearing and members of the viewing audience were admonished by Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, to not make any overt displays of applause.

Several supporters of the bill also audibly groaned when Sen. Bill Morrow, R-Oceanside, an opponent of the bill, said his grandmother was ''100 percent Cherokee'' and that he was not personally offended by the mascot nickname.

The meeting was so well-attended that more than 100 people had to watch the proceedings from the hallway of the California state Capitol building. Most of these were students from Gustine High School, one of about five schools that would be affected by the legislation. The meeting room itself was packed with bill supporters, mostly American Indians.

At one point the 100 or so students, many of them clad in their bright red football jerseys, marched through the hearing room. After the hearing, a minor verbal altercation apparently occurred between Howard Berger, principal of Tulare Union High School, and an American Indian man identified as Eugene Harrod that resulted in questioning by Capitol security and the California Highway Patrol.

Goldberg has tried to get some form of the bill through since 2002. Originally her legislation sought to ban all American Indian mascots but she had to limit it exclusively to the term ''Redskin'' when it became clear that the original bill would not pass the Legislature. Her efforts were pared down to ''Redskin'' after she consulted with several American Indians and asked them to choose the most offensive mascot name.

Though the bill passed both houses of the Legislature last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it last fall. Goldberg reintroduced it this year.

The bill, which has already passed the state Assembly, now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

© 2013 Indian Country Today. All rights reserved.

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