Ex-coach paints new mascot design

By Kara Hansen
Warrenton, Oregon (AP) 9-07

Visiting teams’ questions about the mural of the Warrenton High School mascot used to make former basketball coach Tim Peitsch squirm.

Peitsch says he never quite understood the image on the gymnasium wall: a headdressed man with a hooked nose and bloodshot eyes, wearing athletic pants and moccasins, carrying a tomahawk and arrows but no bow, and trying to dribble a deflated basketball.

The 41-year-old depiction of the Warrenton Warriors’ mascot was one of the first things visitors saw when they entered the gym.

But under Peitsch’s hand, a new, culturally sensitive representation of American Indians is taking shape in the Warrenton gym, even as the state considers a ban on Native American mascots, team names and logos – risking a potential uproar over an issue historically left up to individual schools and school districts.

At least 16 Oregon schools sport native mascots and nicknames, which the state might prohibit. The schools will soon receive invitations to an Oct. 22 “stakeholders meeting” to discuss possible policy changes at the Department of Education, officials announced Monday.

But Peitsch isn’t worried about the looming prohibition.

With the new mural, he said, “The issue isn’t so much the Warriors and the way they’re portrayed; you have an image and an idea that the tribe fully supports. That’s good for everybody.”

Principal Rod Heyen agreed.

“Over time, there were things that just weren’t right and things that were flat-out wrong” with the old image, he said. “The caricature we had up there was demeaning. It was wrong whether we had to change our mascot or not.

“I look at this as a mural that’s a tribute to the Native Americans in this area. I don’t see it as a mascot issue.”

The new mural spans 12.5 feet by 17.5 feet, featuring a canoe rowed by men representing the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes. Their muscles flex as they slice paddles through a churning Columbia River. Saddle Mountain towers in the background.

All symbols and imagery have official approval from the Clatsop-Nehalem tribes, said tribal council chairwoman Diane Collier of Warrenton. She said the group gave Peitsch a letter of endorsement to protect the mural as the mascot controversy plays out at the state level.

“He’s investigated this thoroughly,” Collier said. “Everything is authentic. I really appreciate that.”

The project dates back before the state mascot discussion, which gained traction following a 2006 presentation to the Board of Education by Che Butler, a Confederated Tribes of the Siletz member who asked officials to take a stand. He said despite some schools’ intentions to honor American Indians, the meaning of native mascots can take an ominous turn in the hands of opposing teams. Other advocates of a ban have argued native mascots are dehumanizing.

Peitsch started sketching ideas two or three years ago but stepped up his efforts over the summer, organizing meetings with the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes for input on his design.

On september 15th, his research surfaced as he cited descriptions of Clatsop natives from the journals of explorers Lewis and Clark, who encountered them here 200 years ago.

“Lewis and Clark’s accounts of them portrayed them as friendly; the Clatsop weren’t necessarily an aggressive tribe,” said Peitsch.

And while they won’t be menacing or combative, he said, the men will appear strong in his mural. “They’re rowing really aggressively. You still have a visual representation of strength, with strong men out doing something aggressive, but without it being something violent.”

In 2005, the American Psychology Association called for the “immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by schools, colleges, universities, athletic teams and organizations,” based on “a growing body of social science literature that shows the harmful effects of racial stereotyping and inaccurate racial portrayals” on American Indian youth.

Specifically, the imagery can create an unwelcome and hostile learning environment that affirms racial stereotypes, and it can undermine the education of whole communities, especially those lacking much contact with indigenous people, the APA said.

While the cartoon in the gym has been replaced, other depictions of the Warrenton Warrior persist, on benches outside, in paintings on inner walls, on school signs and in the 8-foot-tall purple statue out front, a giant metal mascot made from 1,000 smaller metal warriors, each holding a tomahawk and sporting a feather on his head.

But the feathered headdress, in particular, wasn’t characteristic of local tribes, who were more likely to wear a cedar-woven hat to signal nobility, said Peitsch.

That’s one of the problems with many native mascots, he said: They overgeneralize and enforce stereotypes, typically those associated with Plains Indian tribes. “It’s not even necessarily a bad job, they just show the wrong thing.”

So far, he has logged up to eight hours a day painting for the past month. The school provided some of the materials, but donations are still needed to finish the project.

“We’re hoping the community will step up in some way, to maybe get Tim some money and help pay for materials,” said Heyen.

He added that he contacted at least one of the creators of the old mural, a gift from the graduating Class of 1966, and saw no problems with replacing it.

“I look at this more as a work of art, showcasing the heritage of our community,” Heyen said. “I look at this as a real tribute to the essence of what our mascot is, the Warrior name.”

On the Net:

The Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes: