New York State Faces Local Backlash for Ban on Native Team Names

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tags: sports, Native American history, high school

Everywhere you look on the campus of Mohonasen Central School District, there are indications of Indigenous tradition: on street signs, in logos made up of arrows and feathers, and — most centrally — in the profiles of three American Indian men, the emblem of the school’s team name, the Warriors.

But under a new policy expected to be approved by the state Board of Regents on Tuesday, that nickname may soon have to be changed, part of a nationwide effort to eliminate mascots and logos containing racially insensitive images or words.

According to the National Congress of American Indians, more than 20 states have taken action to change mascot names, using a variety of means, including legislation and actions by human rights commissions.

In New York, the push dates back more than two decades but recently gained strength — and bite — when the State Education Department sent notice in November to school districts across New York that they had to commit to abandon “Native American mascots” or face “removal of school officers and the withholding of state aid.” The Regents began a two-day hearing on Monday and is expected to ratify that policy on Tuesday.

Under the department’s dictum, schools were given until the end of the 2022-23 school year in June to comply or commit to changing team names, logos or imagery that touched on Native culture, with final changes to be completed by June 30, 2025. Last year, the state estimated that about 60 districts were still using such iconography or names, though some have since retired those mascots.

“Students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction,” the letter read. “Boards of education that continue to utilize Native American mascots must reflect upon the message their choices convey to students, parents, and their communities.”

That letter set off a scramble by dozens of schools across the state to either adopt new names or, in some cases, attempt to use a provision in the policy that allows for some Native mascots to remain if they are endorsed by one of the state’s recognized tribal nations.

Most of those efforts have been met with opposition.

The Oneida Nation, for example, has said it will not approve any district’s pleas for keeping Native-themed imagery, arguing that such “mascotization” has had a negative effect on children.

Read entire article at New York Times