The Kalama High School mascot, long considered to be a racist representation of Native Americans, is finally getting a culturally accurate update.
Charlie Chinook, as the controversial mascot is known, has been a staple for generations of Kalama faithful and represents an integral part of the tight knit community’s unique identity. The only problem is that the actual Chinook Indian Tribe considers the original rendition, and its subsequent iterations, to be offensive. In fact their objections have been on file with the Kalama School District for at least two decades.
Now, with the help of an artist from the Chinook Tribe, the Kalama School District is trying to right that historical wrong.
“What we’re hoping to do is make this a joint effort between the Indian Nation and the school district,” explained Kalama High School principa Guy Strout. “It’s very important to us to have it designed and approved by the Chinook Indians.”
While the design for the new Charlie Chinook logo has not been solidified yet the process to replace the offensive versions of yesteryear is well underway.
Chehalis resident and Chinook tribal member Charlie Funk, a former tribal council member and an artist who draws political cartoons for The Chronicle, is the man charged with creating the new logo for Kalama. He says the change has been a long time coming.
“What happened was here in about the 30’s or 40’s somewhere back there, several of the schools were using emblems that they’d picked up off of baseball teams. So they had this logo with this big nosed Indian dancing around with a scalp in one hand and a tomahawk in the other,” explained Funk. “The reason I know it so well is that I went to South Bend and they had the exact same logo.”
Over the years sensitivity to the logo increased which influenced various changes to design, but never an outright overhaul. For instance, back in the oughts the decision was made to replace the scalp in Charlie’s hand with a diploma. Still, some folks remained uncomfortable with the mock up of Chinook culture, and around the turn of the last decade the use of the official use of the logo was eliminated by the Kalama School District.
Strout was hired on as principal about 18 months ago, shortly after Kalma School District Superintendent, Eric Nerison, came on board. Together, they decided it was time to move forward with the Charlie Chinook makeover.
“We were both new. For the first year we knew about it…There was a letter in the file saying the Indian Nation, the Chinooks had asked us to change it 15-20 years ago. And then six or seven years ago the School District decided not to use it anymore. Basically they just took Charlie away,” noted Strout. “Back in August it became apparent to me that we needed to do something. Basically, I wanted to have a Charlie and embrace that connection to our history.”
Once the Chinook Tribe was notified of the school district’s intent to change the logo they set about finding a qualfied artist. That’s where Charlie Funk got involved. Last summer he was participating in a tribal canoe journey on the Columbia River, when they docked at Ridgefield he was summoned to a meeting in Kalama in order to discuss changing the Chinook logo.
Funk joined the project with great enthusiasm and is working without promise of a commission. He says his efforts are for the good of the Chinook Tribe, and he hopes to be able to make the high school mascot a historical representation of the actual Chinook Indians that have lived in the area since long before the arrival of European settlers.
“Kalama decided to bring it back. They decided that to go with a Chinook as a mascot they ought to have a Chinook do it because they want to have it done right,” explained Funk, who has incorporated iconic Chinook imagery into his first draft in order to replace the stereotypical and historically inaccurate garb that the original Charlie Chinook was outfitted in.
“The paddle he’s holding in his hand is a kind that only the Chinook had. The cedar hat he’s wearing, of course all of the tribes up and down the coast wore that, but they are native to this area,” said Funk.
Recently Funk came to Kalama High School and presented his drawing to five classes of students who were then free to give their suggestions for possible changes to the final draft. One of the changes Funk knows he’s going to implement is changing the loin cloth to orange in order to match the school colors. Other changes may be more significant and representative to Chinook culture, but all final decisions will be left up to Funk and his fellow tribal members.
Funk says he’s happy to be a part of the process and appreciates the feedback.
“A lot of people grew up with that old logo and (the school district) wants them to be comfortable with it,” noted Funk.
Principal Strout echoed that sentiment, noting the effort that has been made to make the process inclusive and ultimately successful in creating a new point of pride for Kalama students and community members.
“We’re not making a secret of it and that’s one of the things we wanted was to keep it transparent so that at the end we have the best product possible,” said Strout. “Some of the comments that students made were valid comments. We want this to be something that in 20-30 years will still be relevant.”
Strout noted that during Funk’s visit and the unveiling of the new draft of Charlie Chinook there was a cultural and historical component included so that students would have a better understanding of historical issues such as the Native American treaties and other relations between two colliding cultures.
“One of the things that the students got out of the presentations was how important the canoes were to Chinooks, which is why there were quite a few suggestions to include a canoe,” added Strout.
Strout says that so far the response from the community has been all positive, which he admitted was a bit of a shock when considering most people’s natural aversion to change.
“There’s been nothing. Which kind of surprised me, and is a good thing I think,” said Strout. “It shows the community understands the sensitivity and yet still wants to have a mascot that is associated with the Kalama Chinooks.”
Strout added that he hopes to have the final version completed by the end of January, but he’s not putting a hard deadline on the project.
“They’ve waited twenty years for us to change it,” said Strout. “I think it’s something that they’ve always wanted. They like the fact that we’re associated with the tribe. They don’t want us to be the Kalama Salmon or something.”