Many high schools across Texas, and the nation, have changed their mascot name and logo in recent years — and again in recent weeks — as the debate over what’s appropriate and what’s offensive fight for the bigger headlines between that and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hays High School in Buda, Texas is the most recent to “retire” its nickname and “Rebels” mascot, announcing the decision Thursday, in an effort to cut all connections to the Confederacy. The move is part of a larger movement that also included the NFL’s team in Washington to remove its “Redskins” moniker.
Don’t expect that to happen in the Mid-Valley, where the Donna Redskins continue to receive support from the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas and, according to a statement from the school district, from the community as well.
“For nearly 100 years, the Donna ISD community has taken pride in our Donna Redskin tradition which we hold with tremendous honor,” the statement reads. “Generations of alumni have deep abiding respect for the tradition and the community it represents. While we are cognizant of the controversy that exists around using Native Americans as a mascot, the Donna ISD community had reached out to a local tribe in past years for its valued opinion and support in the positive portrayal of Native Americans.”
Robert Soto is the vice chairman of the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Soto lives in McAllen and said he has been used as an advisor for both the Donna Redskins and Donna North Chiefs when it comes to representing Native Americans. He said he is not offended by the mascots, but he wants to make sure they understand how to represent and portray the tradition and heritage.
“I can’t speak for everybody, I’m just one person but a majority of the Native Americans in the Rio Grande Valley don’t care that much,” he said. “We see issues that concern the tribes as a whole and some of those issues — from health care to medical needs — never seem to go away.”
Soto recalled being asked to perform and speak at a Donna school district kindergarten graduation in the early 1990s. He was wearing his full Native American outfit and was preparing to show them some native dances.
“Suddenly, a creature came around and all the kids flocked to it,” Soto said. “I thought it was a bear without hair, wearing a feather and headband. They said it was their mascot, an Indian.
“I did take offense to that over their mascot.”
The tribe later wrote a letter of protest to the school board, reinforcing the fact that they supported the use of the name but they were bothered by how they were represented. They eliminated that costume and worked with Soto to better represent Native Americans. To this day, the Donna Redskins still have an Indian Sweetheart, their Redskins mascot and enter the field through a canvas-made tee-pee.
Mike Gonzales is the Donna High athletic coordinator. He said he stood 100% behind the school district’s recent statement.
“It just makes sense right now,” said Gonzales, who graduated from Donna High School in 2001. “Growing up, that’s all I knew. There’s a rich tradition there and it’s supported by the community.”
Dan Snyder, owner of the NFL’s Washington team announced after battling years of demonstrations outside their games, political and sponsor pressure that the name and logo of the team would be retired.
A statement released by the team quoted Snyder and head coach Ron Rivera as saying that they “are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years.”
“There was a survey given to select tribes in the U.S. and I would venture to say that almost 90% of those didn’t really care,” Soto said. “We’re not so much offended with the names as how you use or abuse the name.
“The ones who disagree are the urban Indians. They weren’t brought up on a reservation or lived the traditions. For them it’s just something to fight about.”
There were more than 2,000 secondary schools that referenced Native American culture in 2013 according to a report by the Nation Congress of Indians. There were more than 3,000 using those similar mascots 50 years prior, the report said.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Lamar High School changed its name from the Redskins to the Texans and Westbury High School, both in the Houston ISD, switched from the Rebels to the Huskies. The changes came following a 2014 school board vote to “prohibit the use of any race or ethnic groups as a mascot or nickname.”
“If there comes a time when we need to revisit the name, we will seek input from our community,” the Donna statement reads. “However, because of the COVID-19 situation, we are focusing on developing a plan for a safe and successful 2020-2021 school year.”
Both Soto and Gonzales agree that it all comes down to community support and representing the name and mascot in a non-offensive way.
“I don’t have a big opinion on it,” Gonzales said. “I agree with what the district said and right now my concern and job is getting then prepared and ready for football and other sports seasons.”