The debate continues for the passionate and compassionate fans of the Kahuku Red Raiders.
Monday’s story in the Star-Advertiser about the ongoing petitions for and against the nickname included interviews with three prominent voices in the discussion.
Generational, familial ties to the school are deeply rooted. Tanoai Reed played for Kahuku, as did his father and son. Kahuku graduate and Kamehameha high school teacher Norm “T-Man” Thompson also played for the Red Raiders, but has changed his perspective over time. Suzan Shown Harjo has been the most prominent activist in the country working to change the images and nicknames of Native Americans in sports.
Harjo was the lightning rod in the battle to change the nickname of the NFL’s Washington Redskins, beginning with a lawsuit (filed with Amanda Blackhorse) in 1992. Washington announced last week that it will change its nickname and logo, bowing to social and economic pressure. Harjo worked with the team’s partners, including FedEx, to extend and deepen the pressure. Now 75, the Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree took a close look at Kahuku’s logos of the past.
“This is worse than I imagined. The (previous) figure is a standard stereotype from the cult of the Indian head. The (current) image is a hybrid of stereotypes of Native and Polynesian Peoples and does not do justice or honor or pay homage to those they purport to revere. And the (oldest) image, oh my, that’s not even humanoid,” Harjo said. “It’s a cross between a troll, leprechaun, a devil. That’s an honorific? These images alone make their own case for why the Native Peoples and, really, all humans, should be removed from the entire sports identity. I would urge that they start all over, complete rebrand.”
Reed, whose son Samson was an all-state lineman and now plays for Virginia, believes it is possible to change the meaning of a term.
“It is funny because the only identity that the words, Red Raiders, have with racism is a 1920s silent movie that none of us have watched or even knew about. There was never any racist relations before that movie. We have redefined those two words into something beautiful,” said Reed, who is a longtime stunt double for actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. “They shouldn’t let Hollywood create a racial slur that holds any weight 100 years later in a small countryside community of minorities on the North Shore of Oahu.”
Thompson also grew up on the North Shore without a second thought to the nickname. But he now is a member of the Native American Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) and is studying for his PhD at UH-Manoa. His nephew, Kainoa Kester, started the petition for change.
“I saw the counter petition before I saw Kainoa’s petition. The language, I think he could’ve reworded a few things. He’s banging from the beginning. Racism. Color. Too much too quick. I think the petition as a whole needed to be there, but I would’ve gone about differently. Originally, my Facebook post was not even about the logo. It was a focus on the response of our community to that. There’s so many deep rooted things, it’s why so many people send their kids to private schools. It’s not about academics or football. There’s so much drama, it’s not worth it,” Thompson said.
His nephew, Thompson noted, graduated from Kahuku in 2019 and achieved a near-perfect on the SAT. Thompson was disappointed by criticism of Kester on social media, including one post that dared Kester to get hit by a vehicle on the highway.
“Kainoa is not some rollover kid,” Thompson said. “He’s really intelligent, but as a community, why attack him already? You get educated not just for a good job, but to be a good contributor to society, but when they do that, (we) want them to do it to our liking?”
Without a nickname change, Thompson said he may take the issue to the state level. The school is expecting a renovation of its field after football season, which he believes would be problematic with the current nickname.
Harjo advises patience.
“It’s like going to your family and telling your sweetest aunt and uncle that what they’re doing is really bad, that it really is the wrong thing to do, and it has to be done carefully because this is your family,” she said. “You don’t want to say, ‘You’re behaving just like the white people.’ That’s not going to keep peace in the family. What has to be done is just talking it out and saying, think of the worst terms of colonization and the worst things they said about you. How about if we have a team called that? How would you explain it to us? It just takes talking and talking, making people understand why it hurts, that it does hurt, and we can all do better.”
As of Monday morning, Kainoa Kester’s petition, “Change Kahuku’s Racist Mascot,” has 1,013 signatures.
“Racism, matters of racial and gender justice should never be put up to a referendum seven days a week,” Harjo said. “You can set your watch by it. We’re such a small population that 2.5 million (Native Americans), that’s almost minuscule in a country of nearly 350 million. We can’t really fight with numbers. Our numbers have been so diminished that all we can fight with is our reason, our moral imperative and the fact that we’re persistent.”
Fatu Te‘o-Tafiti’s “Petition Against Dumb Petition” has 1,328 signatures. The petitions are at change.org.
“We have a whole memorial wall of fallen Red Raiders,” Reed said. “To erase those two words from our culture, from our community, from our identity, is disrespectful to them. We can’t be covered under the same blanket as the Washington Redskins. One needs to literally be a Red Raider to understand it, or actually try to come with an open mind, hear us and be accepting and inclusive of our feelings, as well. There’s no offense intended, therefore there should be no offense taken. We as a community will be addressing the tomahawk chop, the FSU chant and any other traditions that may seem inappropriate.”
Reed also likened the adjective in the nickname to Punahou’s Buffanblu.
“In 2014, Auntie Kela Miller received a letter from the Oahu Intertribal Council stating that the only thing that was offensive was wearing a Native American headdress. That is sacred and worn only by chiefs. They said nothing was wrong with the word ‘red’ in Red Raider as red referred to the color of our jerseys. Like Buffanblu doesn’t represent the color of anybody’s skin.”
Harjo has lived through the bigger effects. Whether it is “Redskin” or “Red Raider,” it leads to less humanity, particularly on the mainland.
“It all has to go. One image gives rise to all the drunken racist activity from fans who are painting themselves and going ‘Woo-woo-woo,’ and when they actually see native people, they throw things or grab your hair because you’re an object, a thing.”
The current logo, Thompson said, is something he actually likes. However, it is not accurate.
“I called my wife’s uncle, Brook Parker, one of the most prolific artists of Hawaiian warriors and battle scenes. His dad, David Parker, is a historian and genealogist. I said, ‘Uncs, have you ever seen in all your research, was there anywhere you saw or read a ti leaf in the hair?’ He said, ‘Absolutely not.’ So if we call it a Hawaiian warrior, people say the (facial) tattoo is Hawaiian, yet anyone can get the tattoo. I don’t mind the logo. It’s cool, modern enough, but if it’s a Hawaiian warrior, we have to understand why,” Thompson said. “Obviously, we’re going backwards, calling it Hawaiian because of a row of triangles in a tatau. Or did a haole designer decide, ‘This is cool.’”
Thompson’s questions about appropriation and accountability translate to administrative levels.
“I won’t stop until we review this. Then, if the administration says, ‘Let’s get some community members, coaches to review the logo and name, just to make sure we’re good on all fronts,’ then if you say, ‘We’re good,’ then whatever. Then I would have to change our target. It wouldn’t be the community. I would go to associations, other schools and universities, maybe our district representative. But right now, it’s a community thing, keep it in house,” he said.
The coming renovation of Kahuku’s Carleton Weimer Field has been long overdue, scheduled to begin after football season.
“Who’s pressing the buttons? Who earmarks the money for the Kahuku football field? Maybe they say, ‘Before we fund this field, we should get this right with the logo.’ We’ve been waiting for the field for generations. Keep it civil, then go to the representatives and senators,” Thompson said.
In an ideal scenario, he added, it’s just about the image and the adjective.
“Raiders. We have our Laie Park Raiders (youth team). North Shore Raiders. Neither adopted the ‘red.’ Raiders, I would be completely satisfied, just Kahuku Raiders,” Thompson said. “The name, Kahuku, there’s nothing in it that says warrior. If we’re all stuck on definition and authenticity, kahu is the guardian protector. Ku is in reference to the war god. Guardian of Ku.”
Thompson sees change in practical terms. He believes it might be two years before a nickname change happens, if at all.
“Our kindergartener goes to Kamehameha. The rest go to Kahuku middle and elementary. They’re off social media, but I sat down with them and explained what is happening. The whole thing is to make this a learning tool. I want them to be aware of what daddy’s doing,” he said. “We can be more responsible.”