Senecas Respond To Mascot Issue In State

The president of the Seneca Nation said a memo directing schools in New York to stop using Native American references for sports mascots, team names and logos or face penalties is a “positive step.”

Rickey Armstrong Sr., responding to a request for comment last week from The Post-Journal, issued a statement Wednesday on the directive issued in November by the state Department of Education. That memo said districts needed to do away with Native American references by the end of the current school year or face penalties.

“Names and imagery that mock, degrade and devalue Native heritage, culture and people have no place in our society,” Armstrong said. “The historic decimation of Native people should not be celebrated in any fashion or used as a community rallying cry, especially in the realm of education.

“While individuals in different communities may not associate their team names with the horrors that Native people have faced throughout history, the fact remains that many team names and images further longstanding anti-Native biases.”

Jamestown Public Schools has pulled back in recent years on the use of Native American imagery for its high school Red Raiders mascot and logo. School board members voted in February of this year to change the logo from a “J” with a feather to a red cat.

The Red Raiders name has remained in place.

“At this point, we’re awaiting further clarifications and guidance, as promised in the memo from NYSED,” Dr. Kevin Whitaker, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, told The Post-Journal last week. “Once we receive that guidance, we’ll evaluate the requirements and where we are in comparison to them.”

The memo pointed to a June court ruling in favor of the department over the Cambridge Central School District that decided to stop using a Native American reference in its team name last year only to reverse itself weeks later.

The state Department of Education, which issued a directive in 2001 for schools to stop using Native American imagery as soon as was practical, ordered the district to abide by its initial decision.

The memo said districts that don’t have approval from a recognized tribe to continue using the imagery must come into compliance.

“The state’s decision appropriately suggests consultation between school communities and Native Nations,” Armstrong said. “The Seneca Nation has long believed that dialogue, rooted in respect and understanding, can yield positive results. Respecting Native people, our culture, and our history is not a one-community issue, but a conversation that needs to happen in all communities and districts where Native-themed nicknames and imagery are still in use.

“This includes the Salamanca City Central School District, located on our Allegany Territory, which has a very unique relationship with the Seneca Nation. We will have further discussions with the district’s leaders, just as we have had conversations with multiple school districts in recent years.

“Our Nation remains willing to participate in further discussions so that school districts and their communities can come together to support team names and imagery that reflects and respects the character and value of all residents and students.”


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