As a REAL Native American who went to Scappoose High School in Scappoose, Oregon for four years, I will share my experience as it relates to racism and mascots, though I doubt it will matter now since it didn’t matter then.
My three siblings and I all attended Scappoose High, during which time we were subject to the most outrageous degradation, ignorance and outright racism I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.
When I was a freshman their original mascot was a crude cartoon illustration of a brown loin clothed man, wielding a hatchet with a grotesquely large nose. Our pep rallies consisted of the predominantly white students and teachers, jumping around with brightly dyed feathers, to what they called “the Indian beat.”
Now, because no one knew why feathers are sacred, why it is an honor to earn one, or even have ever heard a true drum group or hand drum being played by actual Native Americans, I tried to not let it bother me. Although it is HIGHLY offensive to our actual culture and ceremonies, how can ignorance be helped? I mean, none of them knew any better. My older siblings, however, took personal offense. And why shouldn’t they? It was an attack on our personal identity and race, and perpetuated disrespectful and harmful stereotypes we have been fighting against for generations.
So we did what any kids would do, we turned to the adults, the staff, the administration.
But they not only were unsympathetic, they scoffed and told us, to be honored.
Eventually, due mostly to my father petitioning the school to change this offensive imagery, they changed just that, the image.
When I was a sophomore, the mascot was officially changed to the brown muscle bound “Fabio” adorned with a headdress and loincloth you see today.
As I walked down the halls there were flyers claiming the “Indians will scalp the competition!” “Tomahawks to the (rival team)!”
Now, how is this offensive, you may ask? Why should we not be honored?
Well, I will answer you.
You cannot possibly honor a people you know nothing about, because you couldn’t possibly understand what is offensive or not.
First off, how can an institution of education not only perpetuate ignorance by not teaching the history of the people they are honoring in classes? But on top of that, promote such ignorance with this racism?
Scappoose means ‘gravel plains’ and was not home to one tribe, but was a trading ground for many tribes across the Pacific Northwest. As the German settlers flooded the area, so began genocide for all indigenous peoples.
Columbia County was known for the mass murders and daily hangings of Native men, women and children. This was a public spectacle, and white people were encouraged to attend them as some sort of show. I like to call them, the original Scappoose ‘pep rallies.’
Furthermore, as I am a member of Plains tribes, I can tell you that the nations who lived here never wore headdresses or loincloths like this beloved mascot would lead you to believe. Anyone from this area knows the weather just won’t permit it. The traditional garb or regalia of the people of this region looked nothing like this. The people here would all know that if the education system had actually educated them on the lands history.
So not only are they perpetuating the stereotypes that generalize us all the same, the school is degrading the Plains tribe’s tradition and culture. And you are literally erasing the actual culture and history of the people who were murdered on this land so the locals could all be here today.
I am a member of the northern Arapaho and Kickapoo plains tribes. And, I can tell you that every eagle feather is sacred, every one had to be earned not in war, but from being generous gentle and of service to people. To adorn a headdress is a tremendous honor. And to see my peers running around in feathers greatly hurt my self esteem as a young adult, and made me feel isolated. My peers mirrored the attitudes of the staff, scoffing at me. Telling me to get over it, and I should be honored.
Despite the mascot, I joined in sports and participated in extracurricular activities such as natural helpers and art club, but this racism was a continual storm cloud, raining on me every time my peers would throw feathers at me, attempt to tremolo with their hands over mouths when I walked by. I was miserable, and had basically zero friends, and the staff only worsened my problems by actively advertising this racism as acceptable, and anyone who took offense (me) was overly sensitive.
During one of my cross-country meets, I was confronted by a student at Madras. The student body of Madras was predominantly Native American, and its mascot is the white buffalo—a mascot that actually does honor Native history and culture. This individual expressed their disdain for me, as I, a Native American, was wearing the Indians logo. I will never forget their words: “How can we expect to change the views of the white man and their racism, if we keep selling out our own people?”
It broke my heart, because all I wanted to do was run cross country with my team.
After that, I refused to wear the Indians school logo on the school grounds. I felt that it was a personal attack on my racial identity. Then I was told by the coaches, “If you don’t wear the team uniform, you don’t compete.”
I never competed again. I went to practice every day. Cross country, track and field, and swim team. But I never competed.
In an attempt to regain dignity, I hoped that my peers would become more educated. So I began to wear sweatshirts and headbands featuring the statement “Native Pride.”
As a Native student and as a human being, I wanted to be proud of who I was. To teach other people that my ancestors and those of us living today are a good people; that we had to fight hard to stay alive as a distinct people. I want to honor my culture, our ceremonies, our entire existence, and teach others about this honor. This school’s mascot ran counter to those goals. I wanted to change that.
But I was told these ambitions were racist. When I questioned why degrading my people was acceptable for them, they simply stated, “If you wear Native Pride again, you will be suspended”
The high school majority ask, Why am I not honored by the Scappoose High School mascot? The answer is simple. Systemic dehumanization of my people is cruel. And, it directly made me feel during my entire school experience that I wasn’t human and didn’t deserve the same basic human rights other students were allowed. I couldn’t be a normal student, as my peers were granted their white privilege, against my right to be a real human being. I felt while there, I was in a them vs. me environment.
You ask what’s the harm?
I can tell you, I am 26 years old, and to this day I cry over my four-year experience at Scappoose High School. Today I cringe at the thought of the racism I had to endure there, not only from my peers but from the adults. I still wonder what it would’ve been like to just be one of the kids, but I was robbed of that, by the perpetuation that we are a myth, a slogan, an idea, and less than human…A MASCOT.
I never wanted to challenge the system, I never wanted to be an activist, or a loner. I was forced into this role by this ignorance and racism.
I was just a kid, looking at a world that failed me as an individual, as student and as a human being.
I just wanted to go to school, but that was never possible, because at Scappoose High, I was just an ‘Indian.’
Misty Perkins, enrolled Northern Arapaho, is a graduate of Scappoose High. She and three siblings were raised by her father. Jubel Perkins Sr. (Kickapoo Nation), dedicated his life to being of service to the Native community in the area.