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New York bans use of Native American mascots, names and logos

Native American advocate Carl Moore sits next to Native American imagery painted along a walkway.
Rick Bowmer
Native American advocate Carl Moore sits next to Native American imagery painted along a walkway.

The New York Board of Regents unanimously voted to ban public schools from using Native American mascots, names, logos and other imagery.

The Board of Regents met Tuesday to vote on the ban It's a move that will affect 55 school districts in New York state and 12 high schools on Long Island.

Schools with native-themed mascots or names will be required to remove imagery on buildings, courts, fields and uniforms. This would require some school districts to remove images from synthetic turf fields, repaint buildings and order new uniforms.

Bryan Polite, chairman of the Shinnecock Tribal Nation, said the mascots and logos that are used in some schools are offensive. Polite said the use of Indigenous names and imagery has been an ongoing issue for decades. He is glad the state has finally made it a priority.

“It's more of a character of what Americans think a Native American should look like instead of what Native Americans do actually look like. It’s very stereotypical,” Polite said.

Districts have until the end of the 2024-2025 school year to rename or remove mascots. Refusal to remove the imagery would mean the school is in violation of the Dignity for All Students Act. Schools that do not work to remove them will be at risk of being denied certain state aid.

The changes could cost thousands of dollars to implement. According to the proposed rule, districts can request financial aid to make the changes, citing it would cause extensive economic hardship. School districts can also petition for an extension on the deadline.

New York will be among 21 other states that have considered taking formal action to ban the use. States like Connecticut, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire and Oregon have implemented similar bans. Other states have chosen to ban specific names or review on a case-by-case basis.

Prior to the vote, school districts, tribes and other members of the community had the opportunity to respond in letters submitted during a 60-day public comment period.

In a letter to the Board of Regents, the Sacum Alumni Association stated their opposition to the ban. Alumni president Chris R. Vaccaro wrote that the name and logo is consistent with the school's branding, tradition and history.

"To change any of this would be devastating to our community’s identity. Remember, this is not just a school district; it’s a large community comprising several hamlets and villages with nearly 90,000 taxpayers," Vaccaro said.

The school is one of several groups against the ban. Particularly because it could extend to team names like "Warriors" and "Braves," which they believe do not refer to Native Americans.

The letter states that the alumni hope to "honor and bring forth Native American heritage through our school community, not 'harass or discriminate' as the Dignity for All Students Act suggests."

Polite said local residents can honor Indigenous people by learning more about them. Shinnecock Tribal members are available to visit schools to teach about their culture.

“The best way to honor Natives, especially local natives is to invite them to your school for a cultural day," Polite said. "Incorporate their curriculum into a class, do things of that nature”

Jeniece Roman is a reporter with WSHU, who is interested in writing about Indigenous communities in southern New England and Long Island, New York.