Board of Regents vote to ban Native American mascots felt in Nassau schools

Board of Regents vote to ban Native American mascots felt in Nassau schools
Manhasset Secondary School hallway. (Photo by Samuele Petruccelli)

New York’s Board of Regents unanimously voted to ban the use of Native American mascots, team names, logos and depictions Tuesday, a decision that will affect two local school districts, according to state officials.

The state Department of Education released a memo Nov. 17 informing school districts that do fall under that category to adopt a resolution to eliminate the names of all indigenous names, logos and mascots by the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Schools in the Manhasset and Sewanhaka school districts sport the “Indians” title for their athletic teams. Efforts to reach state representatives or district officials for comment were unavailing.

The resolution that Manhasset, Sewanhaka and other affected districts have to adopt under the new mandate 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.

In December Sewanhaka Superintendent James Grossane said the district was also awaiting more guidance from the state before making any decisions on how to move forward from the “Indians” name. 

A Sewanhaka High School student dressed as an Indian, the school’s mascot, at their 2017 homecoming parade.(Photo courtesy of the Sewanhaka Central High School District)

Manhasset 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 Superintendent Gaurav Passi and board President Pat Aitken on what the requirements would mean for Manhasset.

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.”

Trustee Erin Royce, during a February meeting, questioned what the district’s legal responsibility would be if down the line, someone attended a district event with attire dawning the “Indian” mascot.

She asked 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.

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. 

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 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 students’ 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.”

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