Indigenous people respond to state directing schools to drop Indian mascots

Native American school mascots have caused controversy for several years. Indigenous people have repeatedly called on schools to make a change.

“Nobody else has their culture, their images or some sort of representation used in this form of amusement or entertainment,” said John Kane, a Native American activist.

“You don’t see it through our eyes, being indigenous people. That’s not how we want to be represented,” Rain Hill said, a Mohawk Indian.

When the New York State Education Department sent a memo out, on Thursday, to all school districts about dropping Native American mascots, they specifically named the Cambridge Central School District for not retiring theirs.

In response to the letter, Cambridge said in a statement on Friday:

“[Thursday], the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released a memo to all school districts in New York regarding the use of Native American mascots. The memo specifically addressed the district, the commissioner’s decision, and the Supreme Court’s [Albany County]’s the decision.

At this time, the Board plans to proceed with its appeal of the commissioner’s and the trial court’s decision. The attorneys are continuing the work to perfect the appeal and complete the legal process.

The Board will continue to update the community as more information becomes available.”

It has been a back-and-forth battle between state education and Cambridge. The school district initially voted to retire their Indians team name logo and mascot but has since reversed that decision.

Kane, who is also a graduate of Cambridge, said the state did Cambridge and many other schools a huge favor.

“In fact, many schools want to change it, but they’re so afraid of the backlash. In many ways, this ruling,this decision, this ban takes the pressure off of these schools boards,” he said.

For Hill, much of the imagery plastered on schools is not accurate.

That is why she works at the Iroquois Museum to educate people about her culture in today’s world.

“Representation matters. We’re not all the same. We don’t all appear the same. We’re not all ever going to look the same. It’s a very old way of thinking that all indigenous people look like that because we don’t,” she said.

The state said if schools don’t comply, they could lose their school officers and state funding. The only exception to keep Native American team names, logos and other imagery is if a district has approval from a recognized tribe.

Glens Falls Central School District put a long statement on their website.

The Schoharie Central School District says they are working with the Schoharie Board of Education and the school community to determine how to proceed.