New York Ed Dept orders schools to erase all Native American imagery from their mascots

New York public schools with mascots based on Native American imagery have until the end of the 2022-2023 school year to commit to changing their school’s symbolism or lose state funding.

New York has long pushed for the elimination of mascots with Native American connotations but with a court ruling against the Cambridge Central School District which wanted to keep its “Indians” team mascot, logo, and team name, the state now has precedent for the demand.

The New York State Education Department informed schools on Thursday that they must comply or face severe consequences, including the loss of state funding and removal of school officers.

“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,'” wrote Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin in the letter.

“The court’s decision establishes that public school districts are prohibited from utilizing Native American mascots,” Baldwin continued. “Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable.”

Roughly 60 schools in New York state currently have “problematic” mascots and they must now decide whether to comply with the state’s demand, regardless of the financial hardship doing so will cause, or face harsh penalties. Exemptions can be granted if a school receives approval from a recognized Native American tribe to use the name, logo and mascot.

“Should a district fail to affirmatively commit to replacing its Native American team name, logo, and/or imagery by the end of the 2022-23 school year, it may be in willful violation of the Dignity Act,” Baldwin said. “The penalties for such a violation include the removal of school officers and the withholding of State Aid.”

Opponents of the state’s stance believe removing Native American imagery from schools limits the conversation and voids a potential learning opportunity.

“When you’re talking about erasing all of the imagery and taking away potential learning opportunities, educational opportunities for our kids, when you remove all of that, you’re removing the history,” said Cambridge school board member Dillon Honyoust. “So the big thing that I would say is that it’s education. We need to educate, not eradicate.”

But others support the state’s stance, claiming the use of the imagery is “dehumanizing.”

“The problem is that we’re a living, breathing, and existing people,” said John Kane, a Cambridge alumni of Mohawk descent. “So our imagery being dehumanized in this fashion, no matter what anybody wants to talk about as far as honor and respect, it isn’t, it doesn’t.”

For many, setting such a high priority on a school’s mascot versus its academic shortfalls is the real problem.


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