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Thursday, July 11, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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West Seattle loses 'Indians' nickname

Seattle Times staff reporter

Goodbye, West Seattle High School Indians.

Hello, Wolves, Ravens or Wildcats.

An 85-year tradition at West Seattle High ended yesterday with a unanimous vote by the Seattle School Board banning continued use of the school's "Indians" nickname.

The board's action resolves a dispute that has simmered for decades, splitting students and alumni as well as the area's Native American community.

West Seattle is the only school affected by the district's new prohibition of the use of a Native American or Alaskan Native as a mascot, nickname or symbol for a school or its sports teams.

Seattle schools named after prominent Indians, such as Chief Sealth High and Sacajawea and Leschi elementary schools, are not affected.

The decision follows the Issaquah School District's decision in May to ban use of Issaquah High School's Indians nickname.

Although the Indians nickname was supported by an apparently large majority of West Seattle students and alumni, School Board members were persuaded by arguments that the ethnic nickname was inappropriate if some students were offended.

Board member Steve Brown said it didn't matter that supporters of West Seattle High's Indians identity viewed it as showing honor and respect to local tribes.

"The issue is what's the effect on others," Brown said. "The effect, from what I've heard, the affect on a reasonable portion of people, of Northwest Indians, Native Americans, is this is hurtful, this is discriminatory. Therefore I need to honor and respect that."

Board member Mary Bass said the Indians nickname "leaves us stuck in a time that's long past."

West Seattle High's four-member Native American Club led the fight to ban the nickname and drew support from much of the Indian community.

"It doesn't seem like a hard issue to deal with. It seems plain and simple to see that it is racist. We hurt," said Mariana Harvey, Native American Club vice president.

Club President Kateri Joe, a 16-year-old junior, praised the board's decision. "I can't even put into words how much relief I have. It shows that justice finally has prevailed."

The National Indian Education Association said West Seattle High's image of a Plains Indian with a headdress promotes the stereotype of a Native American as a "noble warlike savage."

But many local tribal elders see Indian-related school nicknames as a source of pride.

While Joe spoke at a rally before the School Board meeting against West Seattle's Indian mascot, her uncle, Robert Joe Sr., a former Swinomish tribal council member and council chairman, spoke at a news conference across the street in favor of the nickname.

He once played baseball and football as a La Conner High Brave and said he was proud that Indians and other students recently painted an Indian warrior and the words "Welcome to the Home of the Braves" on the side of that school's gymnasium.

Members of the Tulalip Tribes and the Snoqualmie Tribe also supported continued use of the Indians nickname.

While the factions of Native Americans disagreed strongly, they showed respect for each other, sometimes calling their opponents "my brothers" or "my cousins."

West Seattle High Alumni Association members warned that alumni donations would be jeopardized by a ban on Native American-related nicknames.

"You guys are fragmenting the West Seattle community. You are fragmenting the alumni association. You are fragmenting the foundation's attempt to raise dollars," said alumni association President Robert Zoffel.

The West Seattle High Foundation gave $50,000 in scholarships this year, Zoffel said, but, "I guarantee that number will be cut in half for years to come."

Alumni opinion, like that of Native Americans, was divided. "Human beings should not be mascots," said Megan Sheppard, a 1976 graduate who is on the governing boards of the school's alumni association and foundation.

"It's necessary to drag some people kicking and screaming into the 21st century," she said. "We've heard the kicking and screaming. It's time to do the dragging."

Keith Ervin can be reached at 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com.

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