Awaiting Reactions from Brentwood, East Islip, Comsewogue and Massapequa
The New York State Department of Education released an order to end the use of mascots whose names and logos are derived from Native Americans or their culture.
The order is over 20 years in the making, with the order referencing former Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills’ decision to issue a memorandum on Native American depictions or symbols being used as mascots in 2001. Mills concluded 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.”
The department’s enforcement was largely blasé on the matter until recently. The tone changed with Cambridge Central School District’s 2021 reversal of a 2020 decision to do away with their Indian mascot– a court case ensued on behalf of concerned community members.
“Thus, the court’s decision establishes that 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,” the department’s order reads.
Districts have until the end of the 2022-2023 school year to change their mascots, logos or any other imagery. Noncompliance would constitute a breach of the Dignity for Students Act, and the penalties could constitute the removal of school officers and the withholding of state aid.
Impacted school districts on Long Island are, as of November 21, playing their cards close to their chest, with East Islip Superintendent John Dolan saying, “This has been an ongoing topic of conversation in our community. The district is aware of the recent directive given by SED and will review the material and discuss the next steps in consultation with our legal counsel.”
The East Islip Redmen looked to already be moving in this direction, as in 2021 they removed a controversial graphic of a ‘Redman’ from the side of their high school building.
There were already dueling petitions over the Massapequa Chiefs’ logo, with more likely to follow. However, with state aid in the balance, experts speculate there is little that reluctant districts can do to keep the affected mascots.
Ed Flood, assemblyman-elect, stated, “Putting on that Jersey meant a lot to me. We were proud to be Warriors and respected the customs associated with the school and mascot name.”
“We have unprecedented learning loss and a mental health crisis in our young people and THIS is what the state chooses to focus on?” Flood added via Facebook.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCIA), a Native American advocacy organization, stated on its website, “…[the] NCAI has long held a clear position against derogatory and harmful stereotypes of Native people – including sports mascots – in media and popular culture.”
NCIA has issued reports on the matter. In no way, however, does this mean the Native American community is a monolith on the matter, with WAMC Northeast Public Radio reporting Native perspectives on both sides of the issue. With the state’s new order, it is no longer a matter of veneration versus denigration as much as it is a conversation about dollars and cents.
Possibly Impacted School Districts and their Mascots:
The Brentwood Indians
The Comsewogue Warriors
The East Islip Redmen
The Sachem Arrows
The Massapequa Chiefs.
It is unclear at the moment if the Sachem Central School District will be impacted, as they have already undergone a decommissioning of sterilizing their school’s Native American associations. Most school districts contacted were not available for comment. This is an ongoing story.