By: Serach Nissim
New York’s Department of Education has warned high schools that if they keep any Native American mascots by the end of the school year, they can lose state funding for 2023.
As reported by the NY Post, in June a state supreme court judge ruled against the upstate Cambridge Central School District, saying that such depictions of “Indians” identity, is disrespectful and has been called out by native groups as racist. “Public school districts are prohibited from utilizing Native American mascots. Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable,” says a letter from the State Education Department to local districts.
The letter, dated Nov. 17th, adds that school districts who fail to drop such mascots and replace them with less offensive athletic avatars could face “the removal of school officers and the withholding of State Aid,” the letter reads. The Cambridge school district, which had sought to appeal the decision and keep their half-a-century-old mascots, has complied with the ruling and is in the process of changing the school team name, logo and mascot.
As of March 2022, there were over 133 schools in 55 districts which still had native-themed athletic mascots, as per a report by the National Congress of American Indians. The group noted that schools from Suffolk County to Western New York already changed the mascots in recent years. Currently, there are still some 50 to 60 schools who have held on to the mascots, though none of the schools in the five boroughs still have them, said a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education. In NYC local high schools already started getting rid of the controversial names like “Indians” and “Chiefs” in 2020, being prompted to do so by the state Education Dept. Such indigenous depictions and names in sports have also been removed from pro sports teams around the country– including Cleveland’s baseball team and Washington’s National Football League team.
Despite those who tried to defend the names and representations, Native American groups have made it clear that they don’t appreciate the stereotypical portrayals. “It is our hope that sincere efforts to infuse holistic, tribally-informed curriculum which teaches an accurate history and the contemporary realities of the diverse Tribal Nations of New York will follow,” the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) said in a statement.
The group has been fighting such representations for decades. “Widely consumed images of Native American stereotypes in commercial and educational environments slander, defame, and vilify Native peoples, Native cultures, and tribal nations, and continue a legacy of racist and prejudiced attitudes,” reads a NCAI report from 2013. “In particular, the ‘savage’ and ‘clownish’ caricatures used by sports teams with ‘Indian’ mascots contribute to the “savage” image of Native peoples and the myth that Native peoples are an ethnic group ‘frozen in history,” the report added.