April 19, 2006 - The e-mail arrived last Wednesday and contained a desperate plea. The beloved Braves mascot of my alma mater, Indian Hills High School in Oakland, N.J., needed my help.
The politically correct world of today was looking to claim another mascot. Instead of the Braves, officials are now pushing to rename the mascot the Bruins.
Of course, the closest thing to native American culture in Oakland - a town located 20-miles west of New York City and smaller than Oracle - are the street names and the sign in the courthouse which bears an Indian replete with full headdress and the slogan: "Once There Were Indians All Over This Place." If Native Americans ever lived in Oakland, there's no evidence of it now.
So we hang on to Chief Hatchet-Face, or whatever it is we used to lovingly call that mascot, as our own, despite not even knowing his real name, why the mascot is even an Indian or their cultural ties to the land. Fact is, despite our insensitive slang terminology, we blindly love our mascot.
The folks of Indian Hills aren't alone. Often our mascots are just as important to us as our country's flag, and we guard them with a fierce loyalty.
For me, it took coming to Arizona - the state with the largest Indian population - to fully appreciate the Native American culture.
Surprisingly, there aren't many Native American mascots in the entire state. Of the 241 high schools in Arizona, only 16 have Indian-themed mascots. From the Apaches of Fort Thomas High School to the Warriors of Tuba City, that number gets lost when you consider that the majority of these schools are located on Indian reservations.
It seems the rest of the state is either more tolerant of racial epithets or just uncreative, giving in to your run-of-the-mill, androgynous mascots. Of the 26 Tucson high schools, 14 of them are named after either birds or some sort of vicious predator cat.
That's unfortunate. A mascot should be an extension of the region, a cultural icon that unites people. When was the last time you saw a Tiger in Marana?
Drawing the line between a good Indian mascot and an offensive one is not easy. To many, the name "Brave" or "Warrior" is a term of honor, strength and loyalty, whereas calling someone a "Redskin" will earn the insulter a punch in the face.
One of the most recognizable of the Indian mascots in Southern Arizona is the Dorado of Canyon Del Oro High School. But despite its Indian logo, CDO is never put in the same category as other Indian mascots.
The only other teams with the name Dorados that I found were the Chihuahua Dorados, a baseball team playing out of the Arizona-Mexico League and the Rio Grande Valley Dorados, of the Arena Football League.
So the question begs to be asked. What the heck is a Dorado? Judging by the logo, it's obviously some kind of Indian.
"Aztec, Toltec, Olmec, we're not really sure which tribe it is supposed to be," said CDO athletic director David Thatcher.
In the nine years he's been at the school, Thatcher says no one has ever come forward with complaints about the Indian mascot.
The name was originally developed in 1966 when CDO was transitioning from a middle school to a high school.
Some believe the mascot originated as a result of the popular John Wayne movie El Dorado, which came out that same year. According to Gerald Butler, that simply isn't true. Butler was the principal of CDO during the formative years of the late 1960s.
The Dorado's true mascot took shape after Butler regaled two members of the student government with a brief history lesson, one that dated back to when the Spanish settled in Mexico in a search for gold and silver.
Back then the Spanish began calling the natives "Los Dorados" after their tan complexion. Dorado in Spanish means "golden." The natives turned the terminology back on the Spanish, who were hungry for gold.
"It was a different kind of Dorado," said Butler of the word's double meaning.
Eventually, the Spanish and the 20 or so tribes merged over time and the word was enveloped into the culture. In 1966, the students adopted the mascot from Butler's lessons and never gave any thought toward another name or logo.
All of the 25 students I asked last week obviously knew that the Dorado was an Indian. That's evident from the logo painted all over the school, including on the center of the gym floor. Some said it was an Aztec Warrior but most simply didn't know. It makes it hard to rail against a mascot when you, or anyone loyal to it, has no idea what it is.
While the students at CDO seemed to regard their mascot with indifference, the masses at Indian Hills are seething.
By Saturday - after I had gotten the same e-mail forwarded to me from just about every one of my friends and people I hadn't even talked to in 10 years - I got the final one. It thanked me for signing the petition. The future of the Braves is now in the administration's hands.
Save our mascot. One day it may be yours.