Members of the Manhasset Board of Education are seeking more clarification on proposed requirements by the state’s education department to have school districts stop using mascots, team names or imagery depicting Native Americans during Thursday night’s public meeting.
The state DOE released a memo on Nov. 17 informing school districts that do fall under that category, such as Manhasset, to adopt a resolution to eliminate the names of all indigenous names, logos and mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Superintendent Gaurav Passi said all indications from the state’s education department and its council of superintendents point to the regulations being adopted.
Officials did not go into specifics on what would be done with the district’s “Indians” mascot, but members of the board presented questions to Passi and board President Pat Aitken on what the requirements would mean for Manhasset.
Trustee Erin Royce questioned what the district’s legal responsibility would be if, down the line, someone attended a district event with attire dawning the “Indian” mascot.
The resolution Manhasset would have to adopt under the proposed regulation requires them to “identify a plan to eliminate all use of the prohibited name, work, or mascot within a reasonable time, which shall be by no later than the end of the 2024-25 school year,” according to officials.
Royce questioned what specifically that “plan” would entail, whether it be a strict deadline to have community input on new mascot names or to have a deadline to have those types of conversations.
“That’s where I just feel like specifics need to be hammered out,” she said.
Trustee Jill Pulano echoed Royce’s call to seek guidance from legal counsel on what the exact definitions under the proposed regulations would be.
“Once we have that, pending the actual approval of the legislation, we can work on sort of a plan as to what we think might be a way to approach it and come up with some different milestones that we will have to hit.
Passi, without providing specific costs, said the school district would have to pay for uniform replacements, scoreboard modifications and changes to the wrestling mats, gym floors, signage, wall padding, banners and outdoor windscreens. Royce touted the importance of the student body when talking about these proposed regulations.
“There’s a lot of community members who are very invested in this, but I also feel that a lot of the responsibility about formulating how we go about this process rests in the student body,” she said.
More than 30 members of the Manhasset High School’s Class of 2021, including student government representatives and varsity athletic team captains, co-signed an email last year that accused the Board of Education of making a change to the mascot without informing the rest of the public.
“Rumors of a new image circulate throughout the school, but also clear changes have been made around the building,” the email said. “We urge the school board and administration to immediately stop proceeding with the backdoor termination of our Indian image and rather speak with the proud Manhasset community before any changes are made.”
The group of students claimed that the Manhasset students metaphorically wore the “Indian” name with pride and passion.
“Manhasset students represent this culture with the utmost respect,” the letter said. “Not once at any school or community event have we witnessed the Indian name be tarnished or demeaned in any way, rather, we watch as students and community members proudly boast the name, chanting ‘We are the Indians’ for anyone in the nearby vicinity to hear.”
In a statement responding to the student’s letter, the Manhasset Justice Initiative, an online organization comprised of current and former Manhasset school students, claimed there was a disconnect on how to appropriately honor native tribes and communities to the area.
“By claiming “We are the Indians,” we are claiming that we have the shared experience of the hardship the native communities faced and paying homage to a caricature that doesn’t accurately represent them,” the initiative said in a statement last year. “When the Native Americans said “do not forget us,” it wasn’t to keep the mascot but make sure that their cultures are depicted accurately and respectfully with educational components accompanying any decision the school makes.”
The history of Manhasset’s “Indian” mascot is traced back to the Matinecock Indian Tribe, a group that occupied a majority of the Town of North Hempstead.
The Matinecocks were forcibly removed from the territory, with Manhasset keeping the “Indian” mascot name along with having an orange feather attached to the “M” in their logo and calling their newspaper “Indian Ink.”
Let’s talk about the name “Manhasset” and where it comes from.
According to Wikipedia:
The name Manhasset was adopted in 1840. It is most likely the anglicized rendition of the name of a local Native American tribe whose name translates to “the island neighborhood.”
The Matinecock had a village on Manhasset Bay. These Native Americans called the area Sint Sink, meaning “place of small stones”. They made wampum from oyster shells. In 1623, the area was claimed by the Dutch West India Company and they began forcing English settlers to leave in 1640. A 1643 land purchase made it possible for English settlers to return to Cow Neck (the peninsula where present-day Port Washington, Manhasset, and surrounding villages are located.)
The Manhasset name was adopted in 1840 and comes from the native word “Manhanset”, roughly meaning “the island neighborhood.”
So… my question is, will the state now require the Town of North Hempstead to change their logo, also? Because, let’s face it, the town logo features a profile of a Native American man. Will someone be offended by that? Will we still be allowed to call the area Manhasset? This seems like a misguided effort and quite frankly, political correctness run amok. By removing the Manhasset HS logo and changing their team names, I believe they do a disservice to the rich Native American history of our town.
I’m a graduate of Great Neck South HS 1970, and the GN Public Schools also struggled with a controversial mascot and team name, the Rebels. But in the early 1980s, after a lynching in Alabama, a student started a petition to change the mascot to stop glorifying the Confederacy. A compromise was found and the “Rebels” team name was preserved with a new logo & mascot, a Revolutionary War rebel instead of a Confederate rebel. More info here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/nyregion/long-island-high-school-alumni-recall-connection-to-the-confederate-flag.html
I sincerely hope that Manhasset High School students and the Manhasset B.O.E. can work together and find a suitable compromise that will pay homage to the the area’s first inhabitants and not erase their history completely, while respecting the NYS guidelines.
The best way to not erase someone’s history is to teach it. Manhasset should never have adopted Indians as it’s mascot. It was culturally insensitive then as it is now. Would we honor Jewish heritage by calling ourselves Manhasset Jews?