Racial Bullying Persists in Northern California
The oppression isn’t only coming from students, however. After Indian Country Today Media Network published its March 18 story, a columnist at a Shasta County newspaper wrote an editorial piece accusing the Pit River students of “stirring the pot” by advertising their Native heritage.
Walt Caldwell, who writes for the weekly publication Mountain Echo, claimed the charges are “blown out of proportion.”
“From what I can find out, if there is or was a problem, the victims could well have been stirring the pot without thinking,” he wrote. Students with stickers reading “Native Pride” were, “at least subconsciously, asking for or looking for a backlash.”
Caldwell goes on to claim Natives have come a long way since the late-1970s when Indians lived in shacks and the sheriff’s log was “full of Indian-involved incidents.” Now, some Indians graduate from college, he wrote. Now, the tribe has a casino, a health clinic, a gas station and a mini-mart.
“Indian folks have medical and social help,” he wrote. “Indians have good jobs, show up neat and clean and on time for work just like their white counterparts elsewhere.”
This editorial may be indicative of a systemic problem in Northern California, said Art Martinez, a clinical and consulting psychologist who is familiar with Shasta County and the Pit River Tribe—an area where racism has persisted for generations.
“This is not isolated among the students,” said Martinez, who is Chumash. “Oftentimes you will find that the school community or rural community is not going to band together to defend the rights of those Native students. They will band together and attack those Native families.”
Racism in Northern California stems from the Gold Rush era when Indians were hunted and tribes’ rights were terminated, including the right to exist, Martinez said. Much of that mentality still exists, and bullying emerges when Native students stand up for themselves.
“Native people are tolerated to some extent, but really better off thought of as people who are nonexistent, or who don’t have the right to be here,” he said. “This community is very sensitive because it’s where the tribe has asserted its rights—or attempted to—in the past and met with a lot of hostility.”
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