Big ‘Red’ Debate from Pennsylvania to Kahuku

The Kahuku logo, adapted from a Native American theme in the 1990s, then evolved into a Polynesian look in the 2010s, has been always popular with Red Raider fans. (Photo by Paul Honda)

(Update: Bellefonte High School in Pennsylvania is still debating on a possible name change.)

In Pennsylvania, a high school may cease being the Red Raiders.

In Lubbock, Texas, a prominent university thrives as Red Raiders.

What’s the difference? Possibly, community support. Since the beginning of American democracy, communities create the standards and often times, laws are created to reflect those values, for better or worse.

At Kahuku, where “Red Raiders” as an identity has been set in stone since 1950, a petition to change the nickname. Kainoa Kester’s “Change Kahuku’s Racist Mascot” petition on has registered 681 signatures as of Thursday, 8:30 p.m. That’s an impressive run in just over 48 hours.

However, a counter “Petition Against Dumb Petition” started by Fatu Te‘o-Tafiti drew 1,121 signatures as of Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

Since the petitions hit social media and the initial story surfaced on Hawaii Prep World, debate has gained momentum on both sides of the aisle.

Can Kahuku withstand a name change? At Bellefonte High School in Pennsylvania, a petition began in June. By June 11, the story was at center stage in the Centre Daily Times.

>> The mascot invokes racism and prejudice by referring to Native Americans as “red” and “raiders,” Bellefonte Area High School graduate and petition co-organizer Steph Herbstritt said.

Kester went into detail about the essence of the nickname.

“The ‘Red Raider’ (is) a racist stereotype of the indigenous peoples of North America. Just like the NFL team named the ‘Washington Redskins’ and the MLB team named the ‘Cleveland Indians’, the ‘Red Raider’ term and mascot is racially derogatory and demeaning towards the indigenous peoples of North America,” Kester wrote on the petition home page.

Historically, Kahuku adopted “Red Raiders” as a nickname after receiving red jerseys from ‘Iolani School. The jerseys had the name “Raiders” on them, and the name has stuck for seven decades.

Along the way, ‘Iolani dropped “Red” from its nickname. The football team uses a school logo, an “I” shield, on its helmets.

“The best time to change the Kahuku High mascot was 70 years ago when it was first made official, but the second best time is today. The National Congress of American Indians has been working for years to remove racist mascots from schools,” Kester added.

Te‘o-Tafiti doesn’t see the school nickname that way.

“The color red in the name of our mascot is referring to the color of our school. Which was chosen because of the red soil of the Kahuku hills. It in fact has no relation to any race at all. In addition to this, to hear the word red and to think of Native Americans is kind of a racist thought process in and of itself,” he wrote on the petition home page.

“A few years ago Kahuku did make changes to the mascot to make it clear to everyone that it’s a Polynesian figure and ideal. As a Native American and Native Hawai’ian I don’t see this as a large issue that needs to be addressed immediately, if at all.”

At Texas Tech, they were known as the Matadors, a suggestion of the head football coach’s wife in 1925. Students picked the colors scarlet and black a year later.

Meanwhile, in 1927, the silent film “The Red Raiders” was released. Director Ken Maynard’s story was set in 1868, pitting two factions of Sioux, one befriending white settlers and other refusing to trust them. Two lines in the movie, shown by, bring clarity to the term, “Red Raider.”

>> “Don’t be too sure, Lieutenant. The pesky red-hides are raidin’ worse’n ever, and the troops don’t seem able to check ’em.”

>> “While a sentimental contest is in progress at the fort, Lone Wolf leads his red raiders on a campaign of destruction.”

Back to Lubbock, the hometown of Texas Tech. The nickname Red Raiders came along in 1936. Collier Parrish of the Lubbock Morning Avalanche coined the football team after seeing its all-red uniforms and a tough coast-to-coast schedule.

1937 was the debut of the “Masked Rider” who rode on a galloping palomino and led the football team onto the gridiron before each home game.

Horses, cowboys, matadors all played a part in the school’s athletics history. No Native American nuances in name or logos. So the name has stuck through generations.

The sting of the “Red” isn’t felt heavily in the islands, but on the continent, it still stirs up painful memories. In a CNN story, Suzan Shown Harjo recalled being a 6-year-old walking into a shop with her grandfather in El Reno, Okl. She wanted something cold to drink on a hot summer day.

The storekeeper: “No black redskins in here.”

Harjo later became emboldened enough to become an activist, taking aim at professional sports franchises that use Native Americans as mascots.

The question in Kahuku’s case is this: is a Red Raider the same as a Redskin? For Harjo, the latter R-word is as extreme and negative as the N-word.

More from the CNN story:

>> The Seminole tribe in Florida made an agreement with Florida State University to allow the use of its name that allows the university to continue competing in the NCAA. The university says its relationship with the Seminole tribe is one of mutual respect.

However, the Seminole nation in Oklahoma, comprised of the descendants of a majority of the Seminoles forced from their lands by the Indian Removal Act, has voiced its opposition to FSU’s mascot.

The real Chief Osceola fought U.S. soldiers in the Seminole Wars. He was captured in 1837 under a flag of truce and died in prison. Before his burial, the soldiers chopped off the head of the Indian warrior to keep as a trophy. That Osceola serves as a mascot at FSU doesn’t sit well with the Seminoles in Oklahoma and many other Native Americans.

“Native Americans feel offended, they feel hurt. They feel their identity is being trivialized,” says Carol Spindel, who wrote “Dancing at Halftime,” a book that explored native mascots.

For the record, the definition of “raider” in the Mirriam-Webster dictionary:

: one that raids; such as
a. a fast lightly armed shp operating against merchant shipping
b. a soldier specially trained for close-range fighting
c. one that attempts a usually hostile takeover of a business corporation

Innocent enough, right? But go to Roget’s Thesaurus.

>> attacker
>> assailant
>> robber
>> burglar
>> thief
>> looter
>> marauder
>> invader
>> holdupper

If the definition and meaning of “raider” was negative and criminal in years past, it certainly doesn’t fit the same description by today’s dictionary. Should that matter? That would depend on who is being asked.

As of July 2, Bellefonte High School still has its Red Raiders, according to a more recent Centre Daily Times report.

The school board did not have the name change idea on its agenda for a recent meeting, but many residents provided nearly an hour of public comment. The discourse came from both sides, anti-Red Raiders and pro-Red Raiders.

Close to 4,000 signed a petition for change.

A counter petition has nearly 5,000 signatures.


  1. roots July 20, 2020 8:32 am

    The Atlanta Braves just got rid of the term “Chop On” for all signage in their stadium and all memorabilia.

    They are now having discussions to ban fans from doing the Tomahawk motion during games in their stadium.

    Obviously many people are not offended and others love the name and chant.

    But it’s not about the majority. It’s about some people being offended.

    The Braves are doing it right.

  2. roots July 20, 2020 8:38 am


    When you add words to other word, the definition of words can change. Obviously the word “Red” by itself isn’t derogatory or offensive.

    Here is a quote, The tomahawk chop and the accompanying chant by thousands of Kahuku football fans has the desired effect. Particularly at state-tournament games at rusty Aloha Stadium.

    Yet, that well-meaning passion that shakes the house is misplaced in the eyes of longtime Native American activist Suzan Shown Harjo.

    “People doing the offending say, ‘I’m honoring you.’ It’s not an honor. Thank you for the honor, but we don’t feel it’s an honor,” said Harjo, a 2014 Medal of Freedom honoree who is of Muscogee Creek and Cherokee descent. “If people (on the mainland) started calling themselves Kanaka Ma‘oli and used (Native Hawaiian) tattoos, a ti leaf or lei, or a canoe that isn’t an outrigger canoe, how would that be? It’s wrong.”

    The more I read and explore, the name is racist. Defending it is just bad and ignorant.

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