Redskin Country: Oklahoma High Schools and the Use of Racist Mascots

This past weekend, a whole history of Indigenous oppression was in my face when I visited Rush Springs for their annual Watermelon Festival. Their high school’s mascot is the Redskins, a term that many Indigenous groups have launched a campaign against, one of determined education and hopeful change and, thankfully, many schools are listening.

But, in Oklahoma, a state where you’d think that people would know better, you have the high school sports fan that proudly loves their “Redskin country!” athletics and, proving that even Custer had his scouts, the supposed Natives that sent plenty of “I’m a Indian and I’m a proud Redskin!” messages over the past week. This type of hateful rhetoric seems to be the most vocal, affecting Indigenous peoples—especially the children—who have to see and hear this slur everyday of their lives.

As I have learned about the town, the original mascot of Rush Springs was the inventive Melon Heavers (there’s still a cafe in town that uses the name), but, ironically, that was changed sometime back because melon farmers thought, for some reason, that it was too insulting; and, yet, Indigenous people who complain about the use of Redskins are the ones they refer to as “butt-hurt” and “snowflakes.” How much sheer indifference, or worse, absolute hate, do you have towards Indigenous people to think that Redskins is less offensive?

While I have yet to see any other racial group disparaged in this way by Oklahoma schools on a crowd-cheering basis—then, of course, having the audacity to call it a “tribute”—many high schools and colleges across America are wholeheartedly changing their mascots to something less poisonous; aside from Rush Springs, however, there are many high schools that have dug in their heels on the mascot issue and proudly refer to themselves as Redskins. Some examples are Kingston, McLoud and Tulsa Union.

The term Redskin, while originally a white descriptor for Natives used by the likes of James Madison and other colonizers in American history, gained its notorious nature when state governments offered $200 for every dead Native—or Redskin—circa 1863. Since then, America has had a nasty habit of continually dehumanizing and demonizing Indigenous people with this ethnic slur, which, sadly, continues to this day.

Probably more hateful than Redskin, however, is the disgusting epithet “savage,” a horrific word that is even used to describe Native peoples, believe it or not, in the colonizer document the Declaration of Independence. Of course, many schools in Oklahoma use the Savages as a stereotyped mascot, including Broken Bow, LaFlore, Quinton, Tecumseh, and Wynnewood.

I’m sure in those schools there are many Native parents, teachers, or coaches that might “love” the name—as I’ve been told by their white handlers, natch—but I’m also willing to bet that, for many of their children, it’s a life of quiet suffering, never speaking out because of the fear of facing the wrath of angry locals that, as Oklahoma history has long taught us, will turn to violence and worse if their basest wants are challenged.

And, while we’re on it, let’s not forget those other assorted names as well, schools with mascots such as the Braves, the Chiefs, the Chieftains, the Warriors and, yes, the Indians. These are just as problematic.

Oklahoma City is not innocent in this degradation either: it’s been only in past five years that Capitol Hill High School changed their mascot from the Redskins to the Red Wolves, as well as Indigenous parents and organizations calling for a conclusion to Land Run Day celebrations. But, as slow as it might seem, at least the OKCPS is trying to make our city’s public schools a bit more of an inclusive atmosphere for Native students.

As I read a message I received yesterday morning from a Redskins fan that threatens me with bodily dismemberment if I ever step in Rush Springs again, I look over to a recent school picture of my elementary-age nephew and hope that this younger generation will have the education, intelligence and, above all, courage to end anti-Indigenous racism in Oklahoma once and for all.

But then I noticed his school’s official shirt and my heart sank: the Warriors, with a big red war-bonnet, right on the front.

_

Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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89 Responses


  1. It would help is you actually did some research. In a district I know of a former school administrator contacted local elders of a Native American tribe and discussed this with them. They gave their approval to the use . I cannot speak for any other district.


    1. Research? What’s that? Current formula: Feelings > >>>Research, facts, logic.


      1. That’s the same as saying Al Sharpton gave me permission to use the N word so it is no longer offensive. What an idiot.


        1. I’m Native American and it doesn’t offend me at all, but in your liberal dem/socialist slanted forum I’m certain I’m a slang term anyway.


          1. I am Native American and am proud of the fierce mascot image of a proud heritage of resilient people. I would be proud to be known as a Warrior and a Brave. I am not offended at all and kind of resent the crowd that has a chip on their shoulder as opposed to embracing the positives of being recognized as a force to be dealt with.


    2. What’s the name of the team? Name of the district? “Local Elders” can be anyone (which is how a lot of the worst treaties got signed). And how many districts actually do that?

      Florida State got permission (and paid a license fee) to use the Seminole name. Sequoyah High in Tahlequah are the Indians, but they’re actually run by the Cherokee Nation.

      There were no natives at Capitol Hill. There are very few natives at Tulsa Union (and both the Creek and Cherokee tribes, who border the district, have come out opposed to it). Also few natives at Rush Springs (and the Chickasaw tribe has also come out opposed to it).

      Most importantly, would you go up to a random native and call him the R word?


      1. Actually there has ALWAYS been Natives at Capitol Hill High. My mother was 1 of them! Along with a grandmother of mine, aunts, uncles, my mother’s friends from different tribes, and my father in law just to name a few. My stepdaughter and few of her friends who recently graduated from there. So yes there has been Natives there. But I do agree I HATE any type of mascot that refers to us in a derogatory manner. #NotYourMascot


    3. Louis, you should mark Tuesday, Feb. 25, on your calendar. Drive way out west to U.S. Highway 83, turn north and go just a few miles into Kansas for Pancake Day.

      The name of the high school girls basketball team there?

      The Liberal Lady Redskins.


      1. —The Liberal Lady Redskins—

        I can’t tell if this is an oxymoron or a redundancy


  2. Looks like a case of damage control to me Louis. You offend a community’s festival and then you try to switch the spotlight to make those you offended look like the offenders.


    1. Actually, it was my idea! With all the Rush Spring watermelon folk getting offended that we mentioned they have a racist high school nickname, I thought it would be fun to shine a brighter spotlight on the racist nickname.


  3. This post is going to blow up the comments!

    First, I’ll make clear that I carry no Native American blood in me at all. As far as I know, my ancestry is 100% Christian Northern European – for at least the past three or four generations. (Before that… who knows?)

    The good news: the Cleveland Indians no longer display the ridiculous, grinning, patently offensive (even to me) “Chief Wahoo” on their uniforms. That’s a bit of progress.

    At the other far end of the spectrum, Florida State University calls its teams the Seminoles by agreement with the actual unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida. Apparently, the agreement includes payments of money to the Tribe. I don’t know how I feel about this exception to the rule that Native American team names are… not so cute. (My wife is an alumna of FSU.)

    I can’t help but wonder how someone who call folks with Louis’ opinions “butthurt” or “snowflakes” would feel about a team named the “Fighting Honkeys.”

    As far as I know, Notre Dame doesn’t catch any flack for calling its teams the Fighting Irish. But then America is still a majority white country… for now.


    1. I prefer Crazy Crackers.


      1. “Crackers” is good!

        Better still, every team named “Redskins” should be required to change its name to “Rednecks.”


        1. It wouldn’t really have the same effect. It is easy for the majority white population to say that they do not mind being called derogatory names, because they are the current in-power group. They just find being called such names funny since it does not really have any harmful effect on them. For white people to see why this sort of thing hurts historically oppressed groups, it would require white people being decimated until they were a minority, treated like animals, and later as they are “accepted into society” still treated as second class citizens, and socially attacked if they do not assimilate into the culture of the new in-power group and show that group gratitude for the opportunity. Then, seeing the in-power group use a derogatory white name for a football team might bother them.


          1. Decimation is currently ongoing. Your post describes straight, white, and male current persecution to the T. According to one Don LemOn, white males are the biggest terror threat in the U.S.


            1. Decimation? Poor ViX.

              It is SO hard for a white male to catch a break in America any more. Sad. 😭


            2. Did you just assume my race?


            3. Yes.


      2. C’mon… what rural Oklahoma School wouldn’t want to be know as “The Fighting Rednecks”?


        1. Sign me up!


    2. I would love to see a team called the fighting honkeys… I would pay absurd amounts of money to watch them play, and I wouldn’t be the least bit offended by it. People are taking offense to a descriptive term, which is ludacris in itself. It’s the same as being offended by “that green car” or “look at that big brown spider.” While I’ll concede that “savage” may be somewhat offensive, you must also take into consideration that it was accurate for the time. The meaning behind it was only that the natives were typically nomadic, unclothed in a traditional European sense, and volatile. These aren’t racial slurs, they are accurate descriptions, some still to this day, some seriously outdated, but none worth taking offense to.


    3. I’ve never understood how an American Indian tribe can be described as ‘unconquered’. I wouldn’t think that putting down your weapons before you get your ass handed to you would qualify as ‘winning’. Or even a draw.
      I do, however, miss the Chief Wahoo logo. No matter what, someone’s going to pissed off.


  4. It sounds like you need to do a lot more research before you start belittling a town for their mascot name. Your the one who went to Rush Springs for the Watermelon Festival. You should of enjoyed the festival and the nice people Rush Springs has in it. The cafe you talk about switched owners in turn switched names. The mascot in Rush Springs has been the Redskins for over 50 years. We are not going to switch names cause some people get butt hurt over a name. I could write a lot more but will leave with this. Please do research before you make a article like this.


    1. I agree. Dirty thievin’ redskins, stinkin’ redskins, and every other western movie term is perfectly acceptable for Rush Springs.


    2. He did do his research. You just don’t like the conclusions it draws. This isn’t math class, Sherry. He doesn’t have to show his work.

      But since you’re on him about research let’s take a look at the people who you call “butt hurt”. The American Psychological Association has called for the end of Native American mascots as it creates a hostile learning environment for Native youth because most of the mascots are horrible stereotypes and others are flat out racist. This is not only detrimental to Native students but to other children as it teaches them that negative stereotypes of Natives are not only accepted, they are to be celebrated. This reinforces the continued subjugation of the Nations by contributing to their silencing and erasure. I could go on (and on) but I’m hoping you can glean from this one example why people are “butt hurt”.

      It’s been over 200 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Twenty seven lines down from the second paragraph which states that “all men are created equal” the authors describe the tribes as “merciless Indian savages”. From the get go we were already portayed as less than those who have inalienable rights because they are created equal. We just didn’t measure up in their eyes and by not only refusing to change the mascot but insisting on celebrating it despite the wishes of the tribes you are carrying on the grand tradition of bigotry and racism that this country was founded on.

      Well Sherry, NEWSFLASH, we are living people who have vibrant, beautiful cultures and we deserve the same respect that every other race or ethnicity is afforded. We are the grandchildren of the Indigenous that your ancestors could not remove. We come from a long line of survivors. We are strong and we will not stop until this horrible example of bigotry is no more.

      I could write a lot more will leave you with this: if you can’t celebrate a football team because they changed their racist name/mascot then it isn’t athletics that you are a cheering on. It’s racism.


      1. Damn! This may be the best comment ever!


      2. BEST. COMMENT. EVER!


      3. Bingo – best comment in this thread. Thank you.


  5. Until we walk a mile in their shoes we cannot speak. I am not Indian. I grew up with a lot of Indians in NE Oklahoma. There are plenty of other things to name teams that if a group of people say the name is offensive to them – then it is. You can have your town pride but you don’t need to name your team at the expense of a group of people that were here first. My heritage was not slaughtered by the thousands for no good reason. Not so true for the Native Americans. Not using a hurtful slang is the least that can be done.


    1. Well, actually, they were slaughtered for a good reason- land. Just like my ancestors were slaughtered by the Romans, Mongols, Normans, Northmen, Danes, etc., etc. Empire building is not a new thing, even among indigenous peoples. I would think one could make a case that the use of the term Vikings as a mascot name is a racial slur, along with several others. I can wrap my head around Redskins being problematic, but Chieftains, Chiefs, Braves, Warriors, or Indians, not so much.


  6. Just change the name to Rednecks. Problem solved.


  7. They might change the set-up at any time, but for the past week the ESPN Fan Shop on its MLB page has chosen — from all of the teams available — to highlight the “Screaming Chief” of the Braves and Chief Wahoo of the Indians. Cleveland took the Chief off its field uniforms, but still sell the paraphernalia at the ballpark.

    https://www.espn.com/mlb/

    Just scroll down a bit.


  8. Let’s not forget when OU used “Little Red” the Dancing Indian as their mascot for years.

    https://oklahoman.com/article/2799847/little-red-sparked-indian-symbolism-debate-nicknames-mascots-under-siege-since-ou-dropped-mascot-in-70

    Also, just because one or a few individuals from a certain race “lets you use” a slur doesn’t make it ok. Internalized racism exists. Louis is 100% correct.


  9. Marc, the most hateful speech ever! What are your aspirations besides being a jerk?


  10. OUCH!


  11. There were no natives at Capitol Hill.

    __________________________________________

    There were Native Americans. Still are. In fact, one Capitol Hill Native American will be inducted into the hall of fame this Month. Robert “Pug” Toolate, class of ‘ 66, Capitol Hill High School. Full blood Cherokee and he was PROUD of the Redskin name.


    1. Several white (and even “blond”) people have commented here to tell us what makes Native Americans PROUD. No one claiming to be Native American has yet turned up here to defend racist team names.

      Hmm….


      1. I’ve met more than one blond-haired, blue-eyed participant at pow wows. Claiming to be Native American is a favorite Oklahoma past time and doesn’t really mean much. The author’s name doesn’t suggest 100% Native ancestry, yet he’s considered an expert. Given that many tribes only require 1/16 degree to be considered Native, and the BIA only requires 1/4 to receive Higher Ed grants, honestly, is any of this really about race? Other than tribal members with 100% Native bloodlines, who’s the legitimate source for what’s considered offensive in this context?


        1. Doesn’t mean much… to whom?


        2. Blood quantum is a construct put in place by the US government to dwindle tribal enrollment so that the cultural genocide that started after the physical genocide could continue. It’s part of the assimilation and “kill the Indian, save the man” colonizer mindset that allowed the further subjugation and death of the tribes. It’s gross.

          I am the daughter of a Mvskoke Creek/Seminole father and an Indigenous Mexican/German mother. I’ve not once been told that I am unable to comment on issues affecting my other races/ethnicities but somehow I need to produce documents, a Tribal or CDIB card, genealogy stretching back at least 3 generations, and a strand of DNA in order to be taken seriously as a Native? I don’t see anyone asking how much white anyone is when they get offended by the term “white privilege “. The same standard should be held for the Indigenous.

          Redskins is a dictionary defined racial slur. With that you shouldn’t need blood quantum to “legitimize” why anyone is offended by it but I’ll give you an example. My daughter was working at the mall a few years ago when a customer became belligerent with her. She spouted off, calling my daughter a “wetback beaner”. My daughter corrected her about being Native so the customer called her a “retarded redskin”. As my daughter she is only 1/4 Mvskoke Creek/Seminole. Does her not being 100% Indigenous mean that she has no right to feel offended and hurt by that remark? The fact that you had to ask about tribal legitimacy is directly related to mascots. When you can depersonalize us with stereotypes like that it makes it easier to treat us not only differently but negatively in ways that are so ingrained in every day society that you don’t even realize what you’ve done. That’s what makes it about race.


      2. Gray chin, if you would do your research you would find that Rush Springs has a large Native American population, most of whom are attending or have attended Rush Springs Schools. I assure you if WE- the local Native American people wanted it to be changed that would have already occurred. WE are EXTREMELY proud to be Redskins!!! You’re offended by something that has nothing to do with you personally and with that offense you turn around and offend. So please take that nasty offense somewhere else!!
        #oncearedskinalwaysaredskin


        1. Please read Frances Danger’s comments. 🙂


    2. My mother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, father in law, and alot of my mother’s friends were ALL Capitol Hill Graduates and ALL full blood Seminoles from my family! My mother’s friends were Kiowa, Caddo, Comanche, and Absentee Shawnee. My stepdaughter along with a few of her friends who recently graduated r also Native. So that person needs to do their research! Just because its predominantly Hispanic now dont mean there arent Natives there now or even back then


    3. It does not matter how many children attend the school with native ancestry, they are forced to accept it, are coached to accept it. Thats like saying you are not racist because you know a black person. Lack of knowledge and life experience is what you display. My great great GRANDMOTHER was Chickasaw, on behalf of her, I say… change the name. Will call the department of edu tomorrow and ask why they are enabling and contributing to racism in Oklahoma.


  12. Only tangentially related, but my brother once sent me a t-shirt of a south Texas high school team, the Cuero Gobblers. I wore that thing out.


  13. Native American News carried on KGOU had a program addressing this issue last year and there was not complete agreement on the subject with the different tribal members calling in . That probably shouldn’t be surprising considering they are all made up of individuals. Decided if they can’t agree it wasn’t something for me to be concerned about.


  14. I went to Quinton elementary and Quinton high school. I always thought it was weird and uncomfortable that our name was the “Savages,” but there were many native Americans that went there and they either didn’t have a problem with it or were like “well we can’t change it so what are we going to do? Deal with it I guess.” I still was never really comfortable with it and still think it’s weird that they still have that moniker.


  15. I hope I never get to a point that a name causes me so much distress.
    I’ve been called worse but only I can choose how I feel about it. If I let the insult get me down, that’s on me – I control my feelings – and “they” win.
    I find many things offensive but i’d Rather spend my short time on this sphere enjoying the positive than letting others get me down.
    But you do you..


    1. Exactly opinion a… are you a human bean …. or a human doing…


  16. I’m thinking, change the name to “Mud Hens”. But I don’t know any Mud Hens personally.

    Can we all be just a little more sensitive (and not over the top politically correct)? Slang/derogatory names for ethnic/cultural/origin groups should by out. Animals, real or imaginary, are great. Superhero names (spydermen, ultrons, etc.); who can forget the Washington Generals/Harlem Globetrotters.

    “But TRADITION” they scream. Change is good. Think of the economy. Pro sports teams change uniforms as often as I do underwear.


  17. Looks like TLO deleted some hateful comments by “Marc” and responses thereto. Thank you.”Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.” H. L. Mencken


  18. Chiefs and Indians JUST as problematic as Savages and Redskins?

    Surely you jest.


    1. It’s because of the stereotypes that usually go along with those names, like how Cleveland had Chief Wahoo or the tomahawk chop being used by multiple sports teams.


  19. What’s wrong with “Warriors”? That’s not term specific to Native Americans/First Nations/Indians.


    1. What does their logo look like? Chief Wahoo?


      1. Nah……..looks like Pocahontas….right up your alley!


        1. There are no known images of the historical Pocahontas.

          If you are referring to the President’s epithet for a U.S. Senator, you may not realize that mocking the ethnicity of others in 2019 is beneath anyone who claims to be a decent human being.

          And she isn’t “up my alley.”


          1. Aw, c’mon….you can be honest among friends!


          2. She married tobacco mogul John Rolfe, traveled to England, had a son and died in 1617 preparing for a return voyage to Virginia. She was about 20. There is a painting of her dated 1616 — she was a celebrity. The black & white woodcuts make her look like a grouchy grandma, but, the color versions make her look more her age.


  20. I really dont think you will ever change Rush Springs residents minds or get them to even understand. I mean, you cant even convince them that incest is wrong. That’s why they started growing watermelon, to have something besides their cousin to hump.


  21. Growing up in a native american household, such a nickname/s never seemed to be a problem as most teams/schools reflect a positive image. Schools have even eliminated their nicknames they had after specific tribes, Really!!! What is wrong with a tribal name?? Unfortunately Native Americans are becoming more and more an after thought, and elimination of sports teams & schools nicknames only dilute the discussion more.
    If future generations can gain knowledge about Native Americans by asking their parents what is an Indian while watching baseball game, then so be it..


  22. Always felt a dark spirit around the name.


  23. Melon Heavers is freakin’ awesome. Why would anyone go away from that? It’s unique, locally tied, and accents one of the town’s sources of pride.

    Why does this stuff have to be hard?


  24. Tear the bandaid off all ready…. like we have time for that..


  25. Where is AIM when you need them…


  26. Proud to be a Shattuck Indian! We battled Wildcats, Tigers, Bison, Bearcats, and Whippets. Our Indians are proud of our school and our current students make me proud of their winning traditions! Academics, Athletics, and the Arts


  27. What’s next? Maybe Anadarko, the self proclaimed “Indian capital of the state” will be changed from warriors to the wish we were whites… would you find that less offensive. Rush Springs White Power Athletics has a nice ring to it. Stop getting so offended over things that don’t concern you. If you don’t live there sounds like it’s non of your business. I’ve had the pleasure of growing up in both communities.


  28. Anyone who claims warriors is offensive to natives hasn’t talked to many. Some people (non-native) tried to get my hometown to change their name. The natives were the ones who fought against it the most.


  29. If Graychin “thinks” you should be offended, you damn well better be offended…..he is the authority on that, don’t you know? ……..that and many other topics! I hate to use the phrase know it all, but….


  30. I don’t have a funny, clever, typical Lost Ogle comment. But in EL Reno, OK. If you tried to change the mascot from anything but the EL Reno Indians, the C&A tribe would totally be against any name change.


    1. Most of The Really Lost Ogle crowd just cannot understand that – along with much, much more!


  31. If you did your research the diner in town is called the redskin diner not melonheavers. I am a proud resident of Rush Springs and also an employee at the cafeteria. I’ve been a redskin my whole life! Once a redskin always a redskin. When I seen the picture before I read it, I wanted one of the shirts.


  32. You must be a pretty sad little person. I guess you have nothing m better to do with your time than negatively run your mouth. Rush Springs is a wonderful community, one where everyone supports one another regardless of race or differences. This town rallies behind anyone who has a problem and helps take care of them. You took time to run through the town, picking up or making up as much negativity as possible, not taking the opportunity to visit with locals and learn what kind of people live here. I truly feel sorry for miserable people like you who see nothing but bad in this life. You should take the time to see a little positivity, you wouldn’t believe how much better life is when you’re not a negative Nancy.


    1. Most of the Really Lost Ogle crowd has no idea what you are talking about – their loss!


      1. Like you know anything Mikey … you spend a lot of time posting here from what I can see…. I would say your right up there with the lost yokal crowd…. and from a humorous standpoint that’s my gain….


        1. Thanks – LMAO!


    2. They dont care what kind of people we are they think we are just sloppy “rednecks”


      1. Isnt rush springs on the news for having a business post about killing negro babies?


    3. Racism is a national issue, the locals are not the only ones with opinions so get use to it. Change is here.


  33. All I’m saying is some people in Rush Springs
    might be offend by the name “rednecks” but you know who cares about us it’s all about everyone else


  34. Well the Cherokee nation is claiming their right to a representative in congress, lets see what happens and if they agree with these uneducated people.


  35. All racism is ridiculous! My children along with many other Native American children go to school in Rush Springs. It is always racist people who have a problem with it!


  36. Chickasha is the Fighting Chicks….can’t believe you liberal types arent up in arms about that sexist mascot


  37. What is a liberal type?… and then I would ask compared what… let’s not forget about the Mayfair chipmunks… Mrs. Clinton


  38. We have never,ever said anything about the redskins being mean or it being a racist thing. We love our mascot. We tell ppl PROUDLY THAT WE ARE THE REDSKINS MIGHTY,MIGHTY REDSKINS!! It’s these days and times ppl get their feelings hurt!!! Right now I am an Outlaw!! Do you think we ought to take offense to that name?? Right now REDSKINS, IRISH,OUTLAWS,IN-LAWS OR KILL JOYS, WE ARE AMERICANS AND SUPPOSE TO BE THE CHILDREN OF GOD!! DO YOU THINK HES PROUD OF ALL THE STUPID STUFF!!! NO HES NOT!! I PRAY YOU REALIZE THAT WITHOUT GOD NONE OF US WOULD BE HERE!! SOUNDS LIKE A BUNCH OF BUTCRATED HOG WASH!! I love my INDIAN HERITAGE!!


  39. Our mascot was to us a proud warrior!!! We are proud that our school stood proud to call ourselves redskins! Not to be offensive to the Native Americans, I myself have Indian in me. The town I live in now is called the Outlaws should we take offense to its name. No because we aren’t bad ppl just as rush springs don’t consider the redskin offensive!! We say we are the redskins couldn’t be prouder!! Besides God made all of us, why can’t we just live. It was never a problem when we were kids to call ourselves redskins we said it with pride not to be racist about it. Find something else to whine about. Oh and if Rush springs redskins bothered you so much why did you come!!


  40. Likely no one will see this, but great article in today’s Tulsa World ” Gennie Graham: No push in Oklahoma to change Native American mascots or imagery”

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