Many 'holdout' school districts will retire indigenous mascots, 22 years after initial request
New York's Education Department said last week, schools have two years to stop using indigenous people or imagery as mascots, or face the risk of losing state funding. The state’s former education commissioner urged schools to phase out the mascots over 20 years ago. But it was only last year the department set a penalty for noncompliance.
Now, many of the last holdouts, like the Owego Apalachin Central School District in Tioga County, say they will change their mascots. The district has long referred to its athletic teams as the Owego Apalachin Indians.
A statement from the district said a committee of students from Owego Free Academy will meet to come up with a new mascot.
The prospect of retiring the mascot has prompted staunch opposition from some in the district. Up until last week, Owego Apalachin leaders appeared to be actively seeking an exception to the rule.
The directive from the New York state Education Department allows districts to keep their indigenous themed mascots only if they receive written approval from a federally recognized tribe — but cautions that tribes can revoke their approval at any time.
Owego Apalachin sent requests to five tribal groups asking for permission to continue using the mascot. Only one — the Cayuga Nation — appears to have responded. The answer was a resounding no.
In a strongly worded letter, the Nation's federally recognized leader, Clint Halftown, said Owego Apalachin should "take the opportunity to correct the racial insensitivities of the past and move to a new mascot."
Local indigenous nations have largely denied similar requests, like one from the Watkins Glen Central School District, which refers to its student athletes as the Senecas.
Some districts, like Candor Central in Tioga County and Groton Central in Tompkins County, announced plans to retire their mascots well ahead of last week's announcement. Candor recently announced a committee of students, teachers and community members had selected a new moniker for the district's athletic teams — the Candor Coyote.
There are at least nine districts across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes that will be affected by the new rule. So far, all but one — Bradford Central School District in Steuben County — have announced they would retire their mascots.
Bradford Central School District did not respond to a request for comment, but minutes from a February school board meeting show the district's board of education agreed it would "adopt formal language" regarding its "Braves" mascot, sometime before the end of the school year. Currently, a logo depicting an indigenous man features prominently on the district's website.