Public schools in New York will no longer be able to used Native American names for school mascots.
On Tuesday, the Board of Regents for the state voted unanimously to completely phase out Native American related nicknames. No more Warriors, Chiefs or Braves.
A November 2022 letter from the State Education Department/ The University of the State of New York asked schools to end using Native American mascots or they may lose state funding in 2023.
The letter reads:
The State Education Department (SED) wishes to ensure school districts’ knowledge of a recent legal decision and their concomitant need to ensure that district mascots, team names, and logos are non-discriminatory.
SED has consistently opposed the use of Native American mascots. In 2001, former Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills issued a memorandum “conclud[ing] that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students.” Commissioner Mills recognized that, while a role for local discretion existed, “there is a state interest in providing a safe and supportive learning environment for every child.” He asked boards of education “to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.”
Many school districts have heeded Commissioner Mills’ directive and retired their mascots. Most recently, the Waterloo and Lyme Central School Districts retired their mascots. SED commends the efforts of these districts.
Other school districts have not complied. Among them, until recently, was the Cambridge Central School District. After extensive study in 2020 and 2021, Cambridge voted to retire its “Indians” team name, logo, and mascot in June 2021. It hastily reversed itself in July 2021 upon the election of a new board member. Community members challenged this action in an appeal to the Commissioner of Education under Education Law § 310.
The Board of Regent Schools vote makes it official. Schools that did not comply with the November request are now required to remove Native American mascots and imagery by the end of the 2024-2025 school year or risk state aid.
“It’s the right thing to do. Our desire is to elevate people, not diminish them. We want to elevate all people,” Regent Kathleen Cashin told The Post over the phone.
The Department does not anticipate that any team names, logos, or mascots that contain vestiges of prohibited team names, logos, or mascots will be considered acceptable,” New York State Department of Education spokesperson JP O’Hare wrote in an email.
Groundwork for the new changes had been laid out long before the NFL’s Washington Redskins and MLB’s Cleveland Indians changed their names to the Commanders and Guardians respectively in 2022
The state’s former education commissioner Richard Mills asked schools “to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical” back in 2001.
However, at least 133 schools in 55 districts still had native-themed mascots as of March 2022, according to a report by the National Congress of American Indians.
Mills claimed the mascots “can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and
improving academic achievement for all students.”
Some schools voluntarily heeded his request and retired their mascots, while others schools declined.
Many parents and students in some districts feel like their team’s nicknames pay homage to the rich Native American heritage of the state and the Iroquois tribal confederacy from which countless town names are derived.
It is unclear who will finance the removal of logos from turf fields, score boards, hardwood floors and uniforms. It is likely local taxpayers will be on the hook.
A Change.org petition, Once a Chief, Always a Chief, Keep Massapequa Chiefs Mascot alive argues against the change at Massapequa High School, “The Chief mascot is a manifestation and celebration of the respect earned and deserved by chiefs throughout Long Island’s history. Perhaps Massapequa’s sports standings would not be the same without the unifying symbol that is “The Chief” mascot. Indeed, the modern area that includes Massapequa was once a center for Native American life. NYS morons want to remove OUR beloved Mascot, lets keep Massapequa and the Chiefs alive by signing this petition!! Thank you..”
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