NAPA, Calif. (KTVU) - An emotional meeting in Napa Thursday night, debated the future of a school mascot, more than one hundred years old.
Napa High School is poised to retire the "Indian" name and symbol, but many boosters and alumni are opposed.
The school board heard from both sides in a study session that was often interrupted by boos, hissing, and applause- unruly enough that the board president halted the meeting at one point. .
"If you take away the mascot, you might as well take away the name 'Napa High'," implored one parent
The school auditorium was packed with many Napans who've had generations of their families attend NHS, and embrace the mascot.
"I thought this is ridiculous, I can't believe they're trying to take away the Indian" said a parent and alumni who sat on a task force that studied the issue.
Her participation on the panel, she said, changed her mind.
"Seeing and being educated, I really came to the conclusion it is best to choose a different mascot," she concluded.
Before the meeting, native dancers performed traditional prayer dances, in support of abandoning the mascot.
"We're here to get some respect," said one dancer.
Two years ago, advocates for indigenous people started pressing Napa High to drop the Indian.
They have already been successful in doing so at schools in Crockett and Vallejo.
State law now bans such symbols in new schools, as insensitive and dehumanizing.
"We're not a mascot, we're not here to entertain. An Indian is not even a real name, we're not from India," declared the dance troupe leader.
"The symbols of oppression are hurtful and harmful," Charlie Toledo of the Suscol Intertribal Council told KTVU.
"If being the mascot is such an honor, why don't the supporters take a picture of one of their heads and put it up there?"
Steps away from the drums and dancing, dozens of current and past Napa High students sang the school fight son on the campus steps.
Many resent having their school traditions tampered with.
"I understand the other side, I'm Indian myself," Duey Green told KTVU, as he wrapped up the alumni rally.
Green acknowledges grievous wrongs against Native Americans in the past.
"But there's nothing we can do about that," he said, "except move on and try to become friendly."
The study session filled the high school auditorium, with impassioned statements on both sides.
"The community will recover when the mascot is retired," declared one speaker, "but what you are doing now is keeping racism alive and well."
"Please do not be bullied by lies and deceit," exclaimed another, "tell them to go somewhere else, and retain our proud and beautiful symbol."
The school board decided to hold yet another community meeting on May 9 to allow more discussion, and conduct further research.
At least one board member voiced concern about the costs of changing the mascot, from re-branding the school to uniforms.
The board seems inclined to adopt its task force recommendation, and replace the Indian.
"The history of Napa High School will continue to shine," insisted Board President Jose Hurtado.
"But it doesn't necessarily need to shine at the expense of the Native American population."