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Candor Central School District will retire 'Indian' mascot in compliance with state law

A logo depicting the Candor "Indian" mascot installed above an entrance to Candor High School.
Candor Central School District
A logo depicting the Candor Indian mascot installed above an entrance to Candor High School.

Candor Central School District in Tioga County will retire its long time “Indian” mascot as New York threatens to pull state funding.

Over 20 years ago, New York’s education commissioner asked school boards to phase out mascots depicting indigenous people "as soon as practical." Today, there are about 60 schools statewide still in violation of the 2001 recommendations.

In WSKG's coverage area, that list includes school districts in Candor and Owego-Apalachin in Tioga County, Groton in Tompkins County, Romulus in Seneca County, Watkins Glen in Schuyler County, Weedsport in Cayuga County, Canisteo-Greenwood and Bradford in Steuben County and Stamford in Delaware County.

In November, New York's Department of Education announced it would begin to enforce the 2001 rule, threatening to pull state funding from any district that did not comply by the end of the current school year.

The decision came in November, months after a state judge ruled a mascot at an Albany high school was in violation of the 2001 memo, as well as school anti-discrimination laws.

Districts can only keep the mascots if they obtain approval from a federally recognized tribe. It’s unlikely local indigenous leaders will grant any exceptions.

The nations within the Haudenosaunee Confederacy are the primary surviving indigenous nations in the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. Many Haudenosaunee have formally condemned the use of indigenous people as mascots.

A group of tribes known as the Susquehannock also lived on the land near the Susquehanna River. But there is no modern group from which to seek approval — historians believe most Susquehannock people were killed by white settlers in the 1700s.

There is a significant body of research that suggests the depiction of indigenous people as mascots reinforces negative racial stereotypes about them.

The New York Association of School Psychologists summed up that research in a 2021 position paper: "While some support the use of Indigenous mascots, believing that they reflect positively on Indigenous peoples, research studies have consistently shown that the use of mascots and Indigenous symbols and imagery have a negative impact on not only Indigenous, but all students."

A 38-person committee of Candor school district students, teachers, alumni and other community members are working to design a new mascot and other branding, per a statement from the district last week.

The district also partnered with an educator from the Oneida Nation — one of the nations that make up the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — to speak with students.

Many school districts, like Owego-Apalachin, haven't yet announced specific plans but are asking community members to offer their thoughts on the matter.

In the Nov. 2022 statement, New York senior deputy education commissioner James Baldwin said districts that do not comply stand to lose significant state funding — regardless of whatever community feedback they receive.

"Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery, or that it is 'respectful' to Native Americans are no longer tenable," Baldwin said.