After months of meetings in 2019 between school district officials and a parental advisory committee representing Native American, the Hillsborough County School District changed the school mascots of five elementary and one middle school. Two high schools with Native American mascots — East Bay (“Indians”) and Chamberlain (“Chiefs”) — were not required to change their mascots, but they did make other changes to become more culturally sensitive.

Now that committee says they're ready to have the high schools change their mascots.

What You Need To Know

  • In response to requests from the Native-American community, the Hillsborough County School Board removed Native-American mascots at six schools in 2019

  • The Board did not require that two high schools – East Bay and Chamberlain – remove their Native American mascots at that time

  • Now, two years later, a community conversation on the issue is about to resume.

  • Previous Coverage: Hillsborough Schools Planning Native American Mascot Changes

“We were asked to hold off on the high schools due to time and money. And now, we feel it’s the time,” says Shannon Durant, the chair of the Hillsborough Title VI Parent Advisory Committee. Since the school district made those moves, there has been a change in administration and of course, there's been the coronavirus pandemic to contend with. 

“This is something that we’re going to pursue, whether there’s a pandemic going on or not,” Durant said.

For many of the alumni at East Bay and Chamberlain, the issue was considered to have been “put to bed” in the words of 1993 graduate Kelso Tanner. He doesn’t understand why it’s being revived.

“We already went down this road two years ago,” he says. “Both Chamberlain and East Bay were allowed to keep their mascots, and they worked with this Title VI group that had the issue with it.”

But at least two members of the school board are ready to restart the public conversation about it. At a workshop last week, School Board member Nadia Combs asked Superintendent Addison Davis to call for a six-week timeline on the sensitive issue to allow plenty of time for feedback from parents, alumni and other members of the community.

“With so much going on with COVID and our schools, I am very concerned that this policy is going to quickly be passed through,” Combs said.

Davis agreed, saying the discussion should be conducted in a “drawn-out timeline ... so we can do it in a careful manner and we do it in a respectful manner.”

Since the Hillsborough School District changes in 2019, there have been some major national developments in the longtime struggle for Native-American activists to see sports teams and schools change what they consider to be culturally inappropriate names. None was bigger than when Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins football team, announced last summer that he would change that team’s name (they now go by as the Washington Football Team). Another major move was when the Cleveland Indians announced this summer that they will change their name to the Guardians, effective in 2022.

“It is very uplifting,” says Ruth Nowland, a member of the Hillsborough Title VI Parent Advisory Committee. “To know that my culture, my heritage is now able to live out loud is very wonderful.”     

But there is pushback.

A petition organized on calling to “keep the Indian Mascot at East Bay High School!" has gathered more than 3,000 signatures as of Friday afternoon.

Tanner says that the Indians mascot was never used in a derogatory way when he attended East Bay and says that while he understands that members of the Native-American community may be offended by it, “there are many things out there that I find offensive.”

“One of the things (about) living in a free country is we have freedom of speech, which also means you have the freedom to be offended,” he says. “And it’s not meant to disrespect anybody.”

School board member Jessica Vaughn said at last week's board workshop that administration officials from the two high schools have said that they would like a resolution soon — one way or another.