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Our view: NY schools should examine Native American mascots, nicknames

Weedsport High School Mascot 5.JPG

Weedsport High School Indian mascot.

New York state's education commissioner is considering an appeal from residents in an upstate New York school district. It's a case that about 70 school districts, including one in Cayuga County, should be monitoring.

The appeal involves a decision by the Cambridge Central School District Board of Education in Washington County to retire its Indian nickname and mascot, and a subsequent reversal of that decision when the board's composition changed. A group of residents appealed to the state education commissioner, who issued a stay that ordered the district to stop using the nickname and mascot pending her ultimate ruling, which could take several months.

The stay certainly brings the issue of Native American nicknames and mascots in New York's public school districts back to the forefront, and depending on the commissioner's ruling, it could signal a major shift in the state's mostly off-hands approach to an issue that has caused controversy around the nation.

The only school district in Cayuga County that continues to use a Native American mascot and imagery is the Weedsport Central School District. The district has considered whether it should change its Warriors name or logo in the past, but has not done so based on community feedback.

At some point, though, the district may be forced to take such action, so now would be a good time to start another community conversation about this issue. They would be wise to invite leaders from Native American nations in the region — such as the Cayuga, Onondaga and Oneida nations — on what the Warriors nickname and logo mean to them.

A change may not be required immediately, but the long-term evolution on the issue of Native American mascots is clear. The National Congress of American Indians reports that more than two thirds of "derogatory Indian sports mascots and logos over the past 50 years" have been retired.

Given what's happening around the country in recent years, and currently in Albany, New York school districts would be wise to start planning for transitions that unite their communities.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.


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