Racism and Mascots at Scappoose High

Misty Perkins

As a REAL Native American who went to Scappoose High School in Scappoose, Oregon for four years, I will share my experience as it relates to racism and mascots, though I doubt it will matter now since it didn't matter then.

My three siblings and I all attended Scappoose High, during which time we were subject to the most outrageous degradation, ignorance and outright racism I’ve ever had to deal with in my life.

When I was a freshman their original mascot was a crude cartoon illustration of a brown loin clothed man, wielding a hatchet with a grotesquely large nose. Our pep rallies consisted of the predominantly white students and teachers, jumping around with brightly dyed feathers, to what they called "the Indian beat.”

Now, because no one knew why feathers are sacred, why it is an honor to earn one, or even have ever heard a true drum group or hand drum being played by actual Native Americans, I tried to not let it bother me. Although it is HIGHLY offensive to our actual culture and ceremonies, how can ignorance be helped? I mean, none of them knew any better. My older siblings, however, took personal offense. And why shouldn't they? It was an attack on our personal identity and race, and perpetuated disrespectful and harmful stereotypes we have been fighting against for generations.

So we did what any kids would do, we turned to the adults, the staff, the administration.

But they not only were unsympathetic, they scoffed and told us, to be honored.

Eventually, due mostly to my father petitioning the school to change this offensive imagery, they changed just that, the image.

When I was a sophomore, the mascot was officially changed to the brown muscle bound “Fabio” adorned with a headdress and loincloth you see today.

As I walked down the halls there were flyers claiming the "Indians will scalp the competition!" "Tomahawks to the (rival team)!"

Now, how is this offensive, you may ask? Why should we not be honored?

Well, I will answer you.

You cannot possibly honor a people you know nothing about, because you couldn't possibly understand what is offensive or not.

First off, how can an institution of education not only perpetuate ignorance by not teaching the history of the people they are honoring in classes? But on top of that, promote such ignorance with this racism?

Scappoose means ‘gravel plains’ and was not home to one tribe, but was a trading ground for many tribes across the Pacific Northwest. As the German settlers flooded the area, so began genocide for all indigenous peoples.

Columbia County was known for the mass murders and daily hangings of Native men, women and children. This was a public spectacle, and white people were encouraged to attend them as some sort of show. I like to call them, the original Scappoose ‘pep rallies.’

Furthermore, as I am a member of Plains tribes, I can tell you that the nations who lived here never wore headdresses or loincloths like this beloved mascot would lead you to believe. Anyone from this area knows the weather just won't permit it. The traditional garb or regalia of the people of this region looked nothing like this. The people here would all know that if the education system had actually educated them on the lands history.

So not only are they perpetuating the stereotypes that generalize us all the same, the school is degrading the Plains tribe’s tradition and culture. And you are literally erasing the actual culture and history of the people who were murdered on this land so the locals could all be here today.

I am a member of the northern Arapaho and Kickapoo plains tribes. And, I can tell you that every eagle feather is sacred, every one had to be earned not in war, but from being generous gentle and of service to people. To adorn a headdress is a tremendous honor. And to see my peers running around in feathers greatly hurt my self esteem as a young adult, and made me feel isolated. My peers mirrored the attitudes of the staff, scoffing at me. Telling me to get over it, and I should be honored.

Despite the mascot, I joined in sports and participated in extracurricular activities such as natural helpers and art club, but this racism was a continual storm cloud, raining on me every time my peers would throw feathers at me, attempt to tremolo with their hands over mouths when I walked by. I was miserable, and had basically zero friends, and the staff only worsened my problems by actively advertising this racism as acceptable, and anyone who took offense (me) was overly sensitive.

During one of my cross-country meets, I was confronted by a student at Madras. The student body of Madras was predominantly Native American, and its mascot is the white buffalo—a mascot that actually does honor Native history and culture. This individual expressed their disdain for me, as I, a Native American, was wearing the Indians logo. I will never forget their words: "How can we expect to change the views of the white man and their racism, if we keep selling out our own people?"

It broke my heart, because all I wanted to do was run cross country with my team.

After that, I refused to wear the Indians school logo on the school grounds. I felt that it was a personal attack on my racial identity. Then I was told by the coaches, "If you don't wear the team uniform, you don't compete."

I never competed again. I went to practice every day. Cross country, track and field, and swim team. But I never competed.

In an attempt to regain dignity, I hoped that my peers would become more educated. So I began to wear sweatshirts and headbands featuring the statement “Native Pride.”

As a Native student and as a human being, I wanted to be proud of who I was. To teach other people that my ancestors and those of us living today are a good people; that we had to fight hard to stay alive as a distinct people. I want to honor my culture, our ceremonies, our entire existence, and teach others about this honor. This school’s mascot ran counter to those goals. I wanted to change that.

But I was told these ambitions were racist. When I questioned why degrading my people was acceptable for them, they simply stated, "If you wear Native Pride again, you will be suspended"

The high school majority ask, Why am I not honored by the Scappoose High School mascot? The answer is simple. Systemic dehumanization of my people is cruel. And, it directly made me feel during my entire school experience that I wasn’t human and didn't deserve the same basic human rights other students were allowed. I couldn't be a normal student, as my peers were granted their white privilege, against my right to be a real human being. I felt while there, I was in a them vs. me environment.

You ask what's the harm?

I can tell you, I am 26 years old, and to this day I cry over my four-year experience at Scappoose High School. Today I cringe at the thought of the racism I had to endure there, not only from my peers but from the adults. I still wonder what it would've been like to just be one of the kids, but I was robbed of that, by the perpetuation that we are a myth, a slogan, an idea, and less than human...A MASCOT.

I never wanted to challenge the system, I never wanted to be an activist, or a loner. I was forced into this role by this ignorance and racism.

I was just a kid, looking at a world that failed me as an individual, as student and as a human being.

I just wanted to go to school, but that was never possible, because at Scappoose High, I was just an ‘Indian.’

Misty Perkins, enrolled Northern Arapaho, is a graduate of Scappoose High. She and three siblings were raised by her father. Jubel Perkins Sr. (Kickapoo Nation), dedicated his life to being of service to the Native community in the area.

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Michael Madrid's picture
(from the article) "This individual expressed their disdain for me, as I, a Native American, was wearing the Indians logo. I will never forget their words: "How can we expect to change the views of the white man and their racism, if we keep selling out our own people?" ________________________________________________________________ I would pose the same question to another person who comments here (especially regarding the NFL mascot issue), but would NEVER had chastised a Native student who was trying to compete within the rules. Sadly, there are Natives who don't think twice about "selling out their own people," and they don't have the excuse that they just want to participate in athletics.
Michael Madrid
Neil Baker's picture
Thank you for sharing! I'm sharing this with as many people as I can so I can help with the effort to change our own town's highschool mascot, the Manhattan High School Indians, In Manhattan, KS.
Neil Baker
Junoa's picture
I don't know where she got her information about the Native Americans in this area of Columbia county being murdered. She needs to state her references. I do know many died who lived and traveled through here, but it was of malaria, and such diseases that almost wiped them out, they were diseases they were not use to being able to combat. And for the many things she said were done while she was in school, is her perception, and to her it was real weather it was conjured up on her part or it was real. While both my parents, my husband and myself graduated from Scappoose High School, we never heard of or witnessed these types of behaviors she is clamming. My husband is Native American, Seneca-Cayuga, and as he attended Scappoose High he never was treated with degradation or felt it. That being said, my children are also Native American, and never witnessed or was treated as she clams happened to her. My children were a couple years older than her and younger than her, and never came home talking about these types of things happening, and my kids would tell me.
Alamosaurus's picture
In High School history classes, what was done to Native people was ignored. The textbooks covered the defeat of Custer by the "shockingly cruel Indians", but there was not a peep about the women and children massacred by U.S. troops at places like Humboldt Bay, Bluewater Creek, Bear River, Sand Creek, Washita (led by Custer himself), Marias River, Sappa Creek, or Wounded Knee. Nor was there any mention of the mistreatment of Native children in the so-called boarding schools, both in the U.S. in Canada. There are unconfirmed reports of a massacre of Mohawk children by Canadian army troops--IN 1943!. The boarding school they were sent to did not have money to feed them. There were also reports of Native children being used as guinea pigs in medical experiments. (Shades of Auschwitz and Dr. Josef Mengele !!) Last year I got some books from a friend to keep for safe keeping; one was a more recent history textbook, and it did mention Sand Creek and Wounded Knee. But there were many other incidents of this type.
Junoa's picture
Why was my comment not posted?
tmsyr11's picture
I never what it meant to fight or how to fight in the 8th-grade in "catholic" boarding school. I quickly learned though in defending myself against another 1.5 times the size of physical stature - i was light enough to having to put rocks in pocket on windy days. All because i was from another Tribe and he 'liked' my shoes (he didn't like where i came from and he didn't like how i walked). How ruthless and obscene and inhumane especially from people (progressive ideology) of your own (area, Indian nations, tribe). The dormitory system was inept and corrupt lest you were quickly PULLED and moved or asked to not come back. The regional-localized area were not entirely favorable to 'outside' tribes coming in or having say in how the "skool" was administered and managed. Therefore, the administrators quickly caved and favored the....catholic philosophy...live and let live and pray..... There are so many of us out there that were 'removed' from just wanting to go to school or wanting to do what we wanted. But obviously obstacles (white or NATIVE) stood in our way HOWEVER, we did conquer by adapting and succeeding. To this day, i don't have no regrets to what happened and what occurred. We knew what was real and what was not real, i.e. love, peace, contentment, equality, etc. The tenets taught by the Bibles and Catholic Philosophy - yet however, there still are churces, catholic parishes that remind us that despite trying to do or perform or carry out GOOD and LOVE and PEACE, Christ was still crucified on a cross! Whether the MASCOT topic/issue for the (smallest minority) is real or not, there will be something else, something to protest.
Keith Phillips's picture
When I went to Scappoose High, I thought the Ichabod mascot was stupid and idiotic. It's heartbreaking to hear the harm this ignorance has caused. Thinking back, I do find the lack of education about the Native Americans who lived here in Scappoose, alarming. Growing up in Canada, we were extensively taught about their traditions and history. But when we moved back to the states, there wasn't much at all about it. I think that is tragic, and telling. The only way I ever heard that Scappoose meant gravel plains was by some off hand remark from another student. It's sad as a people we are so afraid of the horrific things we've done that we solve it by suppression, rather than owning up to it. Really admire this young woman for her stand then and now. Keep writing, you have made a difference. You should be commended, and not scoffed at. As someone who lives in Scappoose, I'm sorry this has happened. I hope we can make it better. Keep on writing! Keep on telling your story. It does matter, and you are making difference.
Keith Phillips
Keith Phillips's picture
Juno: I would add there is plenty of information about atrocities. One of the worst is the story of Brother Jonathan's epidemic ship, and the blatant inaction of authorities to prevent the infection, when they were warned about it. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file;_id=5171
Keith Phillips
Chris Rasmussen's picture
It is really something to read the stuff on this site. The blatant racism, the disrespect for another culture-all other cultures--and the insulting personal attacks on ALL white people truly must be experienced, and this is apparently a good place to gain that experience. But on the question of 'mascots' that use any kind of Indian symbol or word, I fully agree with the author. ALL school mascots and icons that have ANYTHING to do with native Americans, Indian culture, Indian lore, or Indian imagery should be expunged from American society--quickly and completely. All evidence that native Americans exist in any form recognized in mainstream American society and culture must be eliminated completely. The only places where it is to be permitted is in museums. The concept of expunging mainstream America of all references to Indians/native Americans must also go much farther and deeper. All leases of Indian lands to any and all agencies of the Federal government must be ended. This means that all activities and enterprises that formed the basis for such leases are to be ended forthwith. These deals with native American reservations and nations are unacceptable and must be terminated, nationwide. This includes Kitt Peak in southern Arizona, just for an example. Funding for the Kitt Peak National Observatory, the site of which is leased by the Federal Government (NSF), is already under downward pressure due to obsolescence of facilities there and the negative pressures being exerted by the Tohono O'odham Nation, the leaseholder. Just let that trend continues, but accelerate it so that in 10 years ALL observatory equipment would be removed from Kitt Peak, the 1 to 2 million gallons of water that is stored at times up there would be drained and the water storage tanks completely dismantled. Various buildings on the site would be gifted to the Nation, if they wish it, or they will be demolished. Then the primary intention could be achieved, the termination of the lease and of the lease payments by the American taxpayers to the Nation. Then the people of Tohono O'odham Nation will return to their full happiness and the complaints about the destruction of that native American culture will cease. Won't it?
Chris Rasmussen
Tim Reierson's picture
I agree with Keith Phillips' comments. Thank you to the author for telling your story, I'm sorry for how you were treated. I can't believe the scalp cheer is still done. It's difficult to change a school mascot but the damage far outweighs those concerns. Thank you again for your courage and all of your efforts against the continued injustices against indigenous peoples. Class of '83.
Tim Reierson