Houston School Board to Consider Ban on Sensitive Mascot Names

The mascot at Lamar High School in HISD is the Redskins. Superintendent Terry Grier wants to ban that and other names that refer to racial groups. [Ped Xing/flickr image]
At its meeting this week, the Houston school board will consider a new policy for school mascots. The superintendent wants to ban any mascot names that might be derogatory or culturally insensitive.

When sports fans at Lamar High School cheer for their team, they cheer for the Redskins. That’s the Lamar mascot.

But Anna Edwards says there’s a history to those names.

“Lamar was the second president of Texas. And his main objective was to eradicate Native Americans from Texas. So that’s derogatory to begin with.”

Edwards lectures about Native American history and culture in Greater Houston. The region is home to more than 30,000 Native Americans, according to US Census data.

Edwards herself is a member Ohkay Owingeh tribe of New Mexico.

“And then being called the Redskins, people had bounty on our scalps and all. Unfortunately, it kind of rubs you back and takes you back to something like that.”

Edwards says she wants Native people to be recognized in a different way.

“If you’re raised Native and you understand what our people have struggled, understand our pride and our respect, you don’t want to be a mascot for something. You want to be recognized as a nation of people –what we are. We are sovereign nations.”

Superintendent Terry Grier is sensitive to those feelings and that history.

He wants to ban using any race or ethnic group as a mascot for Houston schools.

If the board approves the ban, the Lamar Redskins will have to change their name. So will the Hamilton Middle School Indians, the Welch Middle School Warriors and the Westbury High School Rebels.

Trustee Larry Marshall represents two schools that would be affected.

“I think some of the mascots have a long history and tradition and I think the superintendent and his staff will examine that tradition.”

This isn’t the first time Superintendent Grier has tried to change mascot names because of Native American stereotypes. He did the same thing when he was a superintendent in North Carolina.

In fact, the debate over mascot names is one that’s growing around the country. Even in the NFL, there’s discussion to retire the name the Washington Redskins.

Here in Houston, state Sen. Rodney Ellis has asked Grier to update the Lamar mascot. Ellis says in a letter that the name is “a relic of a shameful, discriminatory past.”

But others say the name hasn’t had a negative impact on students. More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition to keep the Lamar Redskins name.

HISD Trustee Harvin Moore represents Lamar High School. He says he’s open to a name change after meeting with Native American leaders.

“They are the race and they find that to be inappropriate — that they can set the standard for that. We don’t want to do that sort of thing. I think that’s perfectly reasonable.”

If the HISD board does ban names like the Lamar Redskins, Native American leader Anna Edwards says it help move on from the past.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...