JPS May Need To Evaluate Use Of ‘Red Raiders’ Name
Jamestown Public Schools over the years has pulled back on the use of Native American imagery for its mascot and logo. The potential loss of state aid may now require JPS to evaluate its Red Raiders nickname for the high school.
In a memo to all districts sent this month, the state Department of Education said schools in New York must stop using Native American references in mascots, team names and logos by the end of the current school year or face penalties. That includes the possible loss of vital state aid.
“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 in a statement this week. “Once we receive that guidance, we’ll evaluate the requirements and where we are in comparison to them.”
The memo pointed to a state court’s June ruling in favor of the department over the Cambridge Central School District north of Albany that decided to stop using a Native American reference in its team name last year only to reverse itself weeks later.
The state Education Department, which had 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.
“Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable,” the department said in the memo, issued Nov. 17.
“Students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction,” the memo added. “Boards of education that continue to utilize Native American mascots must reflect upon the message their choices convey to students, parents, and their communities.”
Jamestown School Board members voted in February of this year to change the district’s logo from a “J” with a feather to a red cat, a nod to images first used in 1948. The district previously used a Native American as part of its logo but dropped it for the feather logo.
“I am very excited this has gone through,” Board President Paul Abbott said when the cat mascot was adopted. “This is something that kind of started in 2014 when we decided to make the decision to finally remove all the Native imagery and, when we did that, we knew that someday we would look to do something new for a mascot. Honestly, just from a student standpoint, I’m excited for our students that we have a new mascot to rally behind and continue on as the Red Raiders just as we always have.”
The cat design was brought to the board by a Mascot Committee that had formed.
The school board in July 2021 voted to keep the Red Raiders name.
An online petition in the spring of 2020 called for a change to the name of Jamestown High School’s mascot and name, viewed by some as offensive.
In response, Rickey Armstrong Sr., then-president of the Seneca Nation of Indians, said it was unfortunate that some school athletic programs in Western New York continued to use images that “degrade, mock, and offend Native traditions, Native culture, and Native people.”
He added, “The time for change has long since arrived, and the call should be heeded.”
The Seneca Nation is the largest of six Native American regions in New York state with its capital located in northern Chautauqua County.
The National Congress of American Indians considers the mascots to be harmful stereotypes. It maintains a database of K-12 schools that it says have Native American-themed mascots, puts the number at just over 1,900 schools across the country in 970 school districts, including more than 100 schools in New York.
State Education Department officials said they were looking into the issue, and believed there were about 50 to 60 school districts across New York still using these kind of mascots.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.