An Investigation of the Comanche Mascot


Siraj Bajwa, Writer

“Hey Comanches!” rings the intro to The Comanche Insider, our school’s broadcast we love to see take up 10 minutes of third and fourth period. That intro is a testament to the significance of the mascot at our school, that many of us consider ourselves “Comanches”. The Comanche mascot has been Canyon’s mascot nearly since the beginning of our school, making it an undeniably significant part of our school’s history as well as our school’s culture. Yet, the Comanche Nation has its own separate culture and people, which has always confused me as a student of Canyon. How could everyone in Canyon claim to be Comanches when so many of us, in fact, do not claim to have ties to the actual nation or people? Has the mascot been approved by the Comanche Nation? How did our school choose this mascot, when the Comanche Nation resides nowhere near Anaheim Hills? Is our depiction of the mascot respectful, or is that even possible, and if not, is changing it even an option? These are the questions I seeked to answer by talking to our librarian (who actually took part in the mascot choosing process), our Principal, and the Vice Chairman of the Comanche Mascot. 

To discover the actual history of the mascot at Canyon, I spoke with our school librarian, who was a student at Canyon when it first opened. Ms. Fisher actually took part in the choosing of the mascot, making her story a vital one. “I was on the founding committee. They came to the junior highs and they picked ten from one junior high, and ten from another and then we were that steering committee… We picked the mascot, the school colors, the school name, we picked everything… the 20 of us, guided by administration… so when we voted, conquistadors and silver and red versed Comanches, brown and gold, and they won, not us that voted for the conquistadors… We voted as an entire school on the name for the newspaper and voted as an entire school on the name for the yearbook. There was… a competition and then they voted…. We looked at several different schools and their colors and what combinations looked like, and when they wanted the name Canyon, you need a name that goes with it, so Conquistadors, Comanches… alliteration.” Something I needed to ask Ms. Fisher was whether or not the Comanche Nation had approved the mascot, since I had been told that they had, and that completely affects this story as a whole. She told me,“Canyon had to have a conversation yearly with the Comanche nation to verify that it was still okay but the original contract said that we would always be able to use it as long as we were respectful… so admin used to have to connect with the Comanche nation and discuss…  it was a short conversation, and they always gave us permission, so it was never a question, it was always respect going both ways.” 

Through Ms. Fisher I learned that our mascot has been given the okay by the Comanche Nation in the past. A statement from a past Canyon principal, Dr. Fricker, revealed more about conversations our school has had with the Comanche Nation. It reads, “We had several meetings with them… they would prefer us not to use the Comanche at all and to change the mascot. They did not like the over emphasis on the Brown skinned, bare chested, tribal warrior to represent them as a community of people. They also were offended by the caricature representation of the original mascot.  They said that the Comanche nation should not be represented as a cartoon warrior. It was decided at the District level by Superintendent Christianson that we were not changing the Canyon mascot. So we met with them again and asked what we could do to represent them in a more respectful manner. We provided them with options to select from. They liked the one that was selected as a compromise to not changing the mascot because it was not cartoonish in nature or represented an image that was considered degrading to their tribal membership.” Currently, though, our school does not have a yearly conversation with the Nation. The question of who was part of the past conversations could definitely be brought up, too, as the Vice Chairman of the Comanche Nation does not approve of the mascot. The Comanche Nation of Oklahoma is also listed on, linked in a source provided by the Vice Chairman, on the list of Native American organizations and tribal governments in support of changing “the mascot”. 

Regardless of whether our school should or should not change the mascot, I wanted to know what that process would look like and if it was even a possibility. I asked Mr. Abercrombie, and he responded, “With anything, you want to have stakeholder discussions, you want to learn the history and you don’t want to make rash decisions on either side. You want to make sure it is thoroughly learned about… so if that were going to be a topic of discussion, we would want to guide that in the right way… get stakeholders involved. Too quickly in today’s world we sometimes make decisions based on social media, which I’m not a big fan of, because you’re not diving into any topic in depth… You want to learn perspectives on both sides. You have 50 years of stakeholders, you’ve got an unlimited number of stakeholders. You want to make sure all stakeholders are involved and have a voice, and hopefully that’s a productive, mature voice… Even if two sides disagree, we want to facilitate, mature, productive conversation.” Based on this, it seems that it’s actually possible for our school to at least start the process of the mascot change, but it’s incredibly important to look at all sides of the issue as it is with anything.

A key perspective in a discussion about the Comanche mascot is Comanches themselves, so I asked the Vice Chairman of the Comanche Nation, Cornel Pewewardy, what his thoughts on the issue are. When asked whether the Nation had any consensus about whether Native mascots are offensive, harmful, or insensitive, he said there wasn’t any, but he did add, “…I would prefer you not to use the Comanche mascot in any form or fashion… I think that any mascot, particularly Native, context and history, tends to be manufactured by those outside of the culture and heritage. My fear is that the symbolism of the Comanche was born out of Hollywood. If so, that hypothesis would be… (the mascot is) a very mythical, manufactured identity, very far from the truth of what we’re all about… it’s very insensitive that it’s casting the mascot under an umbrella of all the Plain Indians,”. He went on to describe mascots as having to do with the “identity construction of various communities”, but that when these communities use symbols like feathers and drums, mascots become even more of something manufactured out of Hollywood. I then asked if it were possible for our mascot to be a form of honoring and preserving the Comanche Nation, and he replied with, “For me, personally, there’s no way that a Comanche mascot in California can be honorable. You might even get an endorsement from a Comanche citizen or family, but that doesn’t mean it’s a consensus, for me as a Comanche leader. I look at it as a cultural appropriation, so I would recommend the school … backtrack and look at the story, how did it (our mascot) land to become a Comanche mascot.” Our school’s newspaper has been titled “Smoke Signals” since near the beginning of our school’s founding, too, so I asked the Vice Chairman about the Comanche’s use of smoke signals and whether he approved of our newspaper’s name. “The Comanche are not the only nation that used forms of communication that is non-verbal. Hand gestures, sign language, calling songs, dances are all forms of communication that we’ve had. We’ve had whistles, flutes… I think smoke signals again may have come out of Hollywood… as a way of communicating messages. That tends to be a form of stereotype, so I don’t even know if that is okay.” I then asked whether it was important for non-Comanches to research and educate themselves about this topic, since I had been asked why I cared about this story, to which the Vice Chairman answered, “I think you should care because it is an ethnic mascot. And anybody that has been offended, it doesn’t take a thousand, it can be just one person. They need to do something about it.” He brought up the “stereotypical tomahawk chop” still used as a sports celebration by fans of various baseball teams (starting with the Florida State Seminoles and then by the Atlanta Braves, who won the 2021 World Series), representing a form of warchant by Natives created by Hollywood. “That’s racism at its best in 2021. Just because you’re not Comanche, you care for them, because what it signifies is people that continue to do these racist acts by default, therefore as a non-Comanche, or a non-Native, I believe you have the right to bring this to the attention of your community.” I lastly asked whether the Vice Chairman has anything else to say specifically to the students at Canyon High School. He asks us to do our research, which he specified as getting information from Native scholarship and anywhere that discusses the impact of ethnic stereotypes on academic achievement. “So when we do have young people that are developing their cultural identity that are being taunted for who they are, they tend to shy away from who people think they are. They acquire silence in their behavior, and they begin to decline in their attention at school and then academic studies tend to suffer… It beats up one’s ethnic self esteem. Do you need to continue this or do you want to be culturally responsive to anyone’s needs.” This is evident by studies proving the negative effects of Native mascots on Native students and the experience of Native people. For further reading, check out Stephanie Fryberg’s publications and writing. “For me being a Comanche citizen and the Vice Chairman, I would highly recommend that you discontinue using the Comanche mascot.”

During my investigation, I was directed to the Title VI Indian Education Program at OUSD, which addresses the specific needs of Native American students in our district. I received two statements through email from those contacted. One read, “There was always some narrative out there that the Comanches Nation approved of this and that wasn’t the real story. It was a lot more nuanced.”, and the other summarized the program. 

This story had various different layers and I was pointed in many different directions. I thank Cornel Pewewardy, Ms. Fisher, Mr. Abercrombie, Mr. Anderson, Ms. Belinge, Ms. Nancy Younger, Mr. Turner, and those at the Title VI Indian Education Program at OUSD for all offering their sincere help in navigating this investigation. I won’t tell anyone what they should do with this story, but I do urge us all, as students of Canyon, to do our research, to listen to different perspectives, and to care about stories that don’t necessarily directly affect us and our daily lives.