One Hillsborough school prepares to scrap its Native American mascot, another does not

Student leaders at Chamberlain and East Bay high schools deliberated over the issue, with different results.
Chamberlain High School's "Chiefs" logo, pictured on Oct. 20, 2022, is visible on the building at 9401 N Blvd. in Tampa.
Chamberlain High School's "Chiefs" logo, pictured on Oct. 20, 2022, is visible on the building at 9401 N Blvd. in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times (2021) ]
Published June 15, 2022|Updated June 16, 2022

North Tampa’s Chamberlain High School is one step closer to getting a new mascot, subject to a Hillsborough County School Board vote Tuesday that could end its use of the name “Chiefs.”

But at East Bay High School in Gibsonton, there is no such plan to lose the moniker “Indians.”

District leaders have been working with both schools to reach consensus on how to handle the volatile issue of ethnic mascots. An advisory council of Native American parents had requested that both mascots be changed, according to a district report.

Officials announced three years ago that they were removing Native American mascots at six elementary and middle schools, saying in a written statement that such practices “can reduce living human beings to the level of a cartoon, caricature or stereotype.”

But the same announcement said the high schools could maintain their mascots while becoming more responsible in how they portrayed Native culture. “We believe students at the high school level are better prepared to understand the differences and sensitivities around cultures,” the notice said.

Hillsborough County School Board chairperson Nadia Combs
Hillsborough County School Board chairperson Nadia Combs [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

School Board chairperson Nadia Combs noted that although the “Chiefs” and “Indians” labels remained after 2019, they were not fully embraced. Both schools were in limbo as they deliberated on the issue.

Related: School mascots are changing in Hillsborough to reflect sensitivity to Native Americans

The district later began meeting with students and community members around both schools. Student government associations prepared presentations and conducted surveys of staff and fellow students. They consulted with alumni and the Native American parents’ council.

Decisions at both schools were left to the student government. The Chamberlain students recommended a mascot change. The East Bay group did not.

The National Congress of American Indians estimates that, despite pressure to end the practice, nearly 2,000 schools nationwide still have Native-themed mascots. The term “Indians” is by far the most popular.

Combs said that, while some might argue in favor of new mascots at both high schools, she believes it is important to respect the will of the students.

The Native American council can continue its educational work at East Bay, Combs said, leaving open the possibility that student leaders will take a different position in the future.

“The change has to be something that will be celebrated, instead of something that’s controversial,” Combs said.