Within the last year, the NFL has seen a mascot name change for the Washington Football Team, and the Cleveland Indians of Major League Baseball confirmed Monday that they were committing to a non-Native American based name after 2021.
Two name changes at the national level – but few at the local, high school level.
It’s been 19 years since New York State Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills drafted a memo to all school board presidents and superintendents of public schools on mascots.
“After careful thought and consideration, I have 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,” he wrote in the April 2001 memo. “I ask superintendents and school boards to lead their communities to a new understanding of this matter. I ask boards to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical.”
What a long road it has been – with few changes.
Section II currently has six high schools with the Indians as a nickname – Cambridge, Coxsackie-Athens, Glens Falls, Hoosic Valley, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, Schoharie – along with the Schenectady Indians summer American Legion baseball program.
The area includes other Native American-themed names – the Corinth Tomahawks, Fonda-Fultonville Braves, Colonie Garnet Raiders, Mechanicville Red Raiders, and a host of Warriors including Mohonasen, Stillwater and Niskayuna’s Silver Warriors. Shenendehowa retains the name of the Plainsmen, adjusting its logo through the years.
State Sen. Peter Harckham, D-South Salem, introduced a bill in July that would require school boards with race-based mascots to, at least once a year, dedicate a portion of a meeting to discuss racial sensitivity.
The bill is currently in committee, but Monday’s national announcement could give it more political weight.
“It creates momentum for social justice, and it shows that mainstream corporations are in many cases driving this, letting these franchise know that it’s no longer acceptable,” Harckham said Monday afternoon. “This absolutely gives us momentum.”
With another professional sports team making a change, Harckham hopes that school districts will follow.
“We are hoping to do our version which really calls for a conversation in every district so that the social pressure can begin to build,” Harckham said. “That’s where it’s really got to happen, at the local level.”
Last July, Mechanicville City Schools Superintendnt Bruce Potter said that the district was reconsidering the “Red Raiders” mascot.
Potter said it may be possible to keep the name but eliminate symbols and imagery that explicitly tie the name to Native Americans. The high school’s football helmets, for example, consists of “Raiders” emblazoned across a tomahawk.
“It’s one of those things I would want to have a broader conversation with community members and have the board weigh in,” Potter said during his July interview with the Daily Gazette. “It brings up a lot of relevant discussion points that are really prevalent today . . . The conversation is only going to continue, we aren’t going to shy away from anything.”
The Daily Gazette reached out to the athletic directors and school superintendents at Cambridge, Glens Falls, Ravena and Schoharie for comment on Monday.
Schoharie superintendent David Blanchard acknowledged that the mascot subject was part of a July board meeting.
“The Schoharie Central School District received several members of the school community discussing the mascot at the July board meeting,” Blanchard replied in an email. “The Board of Education listened to the public comment but has not discussed making a change to the school mascot.
“The district Equity Committee will be working on this issue with students, staff and representatives from the local Iroquois Museum.”