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‘Red Raider’ Dispute Continues With Counter Petition

A number of Jamestown High School alumni are pushing back against a movement to change the school’s longtime mascot.

The original petition, “Remove racist name & imagery from Jamestown Public Schools athletic teams,” was organized by Jamestown Justice Coalition member Autumn Echo and had called for Jamestown Public Schools to change the name from the “Red Raider” and remove any Native American imagery associated with the high school logo.

Rickey L. Armstrong Sr., president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, voiced support for the movement in a statement sent to The Post-Journal on June 18, noting that the “time for change has long since arrived, and the call should be heeded.”

Melissa Paterniti, a 1993 graduate, said she started the Change.org counter petition, “Keep the Red Raider name the same!” because she had never interpreted the “Red Raider” mascot or name to be offensive or derogatory.

“The petition made me mad,” Paterniti said. “Here are these people that didn’t even go to Jamestown and they’re trying to say, well, ‘It’s racist.’ Honestly, is the Indian racist? People will say yes, people will say no. Is it a racist, derogatory mockery of the Indian culture? Absolutely not.”

Paterniti, instead, believes the opposite.

“When I think of Jamestown ‘Red Raiders,’ I think of pride, integrity and strength and hard work,” she said. “The word ‘Pride’ goes in the sentence. When you look at a Jamestown Red Raider football player, what does it say on their jersey? ‘Raider Pride.'”

She added, “This isn’t about the mascot. It’s about the name. I don’t care about the logo. The logo has changed.”

Paterniti’s petition had received 1,038 signatures as of press time, while the original petition had 810.

“Starting a petition to keep things exactly the way they are isn’t a petition,” Echo said in response to the reaction the counter-petition has received. “That sentiment could have been more easily communicated by not signing our petition to change the name. It’s a call to inaction and it’s fine for everyone to voice their opinion and having a community conversation is a great thing.”

Echo said the original petition was borne out of conversations with friends who had expressed concerns with the name that spread into discussions with the coalition, created in the wake of the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that rejuvenated the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

“The leaders of the coalition were prompting members of the community who were responsible for the coalition to think of what changes can be made in our city for the better,” she said. “One of the things that I brought up was this conversation about this logo and the name of the sports team. That’s really alienating for native people and really offensive and something we could set an example for area students with.”

Echo also appreciated the opportunity to hear from Armstrong.

“To have that perspective which is an invaluable one,” she said. “That’s straight from the mouth of a person who is personally affected by this issue. Most students who currently attend JHS, most alumni and most people who live in the city are not negatively impacted by the name Red Raiders and by any Native American iconography. That’s why it’s prevailed for so long. But, the Seneca Nation has been affected by it,” she added. “Those are our brothers and sisters in the area right next door to us.”

Paterniti, too, understood Armstrong’s statement but maintained that the meaning behind the logo is an honorable one, referencing a mural on the walls of McElrath Gymnasium depicting a Native American mounted on a horse crashing through a wall.

“When you look at that drawing, what do you see? You see strength and integrity and courage,” she added. “It’s hard for me to try to understand that they don’t see the positive in it. I feel that there is no mockery, but I’m also not Native American. So, I respect their points and their views but if you speak to anyone who has ever come through the Red Raider athletics program or band, we wear that name with pride.”

Both organizers have reached out to the school district whose outgoing superintendent, Dr. Bret Apthorpe, previously stressed the need for a dialogue in a June 19 story in The Post-Journal.

“For me, it has to be part of a much larger conversation on this topic,” he said. “I really do appreciate the awareness … To me, people have opened their eyes and ears and they want to participate a part of that conversation that we need to have as a community.”

That’s a conversation that both want to be a part of.

“For anyone that is a part of this conversation moving forward, I hope they keep in mind that it isn’t about them,” Echo said. “It’s not about me, it’s not about anyone with a counter-petition, it’s not about them. The root of this issue is being culturally sensitive and respectful to people who have different beliefs, different skin colors, different walks of life and the way that we are treating them. We are at a time right now where being sensitive to the people around us is incredibly important and vital. Jamestown has an opportunity to set an example.”

“Do we need to have light on racism in America? Absolutely,” Paterniti said. “Racism happens in every color … I’m willing to have conversations and I hope we can soon. This is a time for solutions, not a battle.”

Dispute over the “Red Raider” name is not new: former State Education Commissioner Richard Mills had urged school board presidents and school superintendents to change their school’s mascot and nickname if it uses Native American symbols, according to an April 6, 2001 story that ran in The Post-Journal.

The district began to phase out a Native American character portrayal beginning in 2012 that, according to research by the Fenton History Center, began appearing in JHS yearbooks in 1981. By 2015, all district athletic teams began using a capital ‘J’ with a feather at the direction of former superintendent Tim Mains.

A similar dispute over the same mascot name and similar imagery is also going on in Bellefonte, Pa., according to The Lock Haven Express. Lawn signs supporting the name staying the same began appearing in residents’ lawns earlier this week.

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