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Mural of Massapequa’s “Chiefs” mascot defies state ban

Massapequa High School, Masssapequa, New York.
Glittering Pillars
/
Wikimedia Commons
Massapequa High School, Masssapequa, New York.

Students from Massapequa High School are painting a mural of a Native American chief, despite a recent state ban on Indigenous mascots.

The halfway completed project, located on a nearby bagel shop, is the result of a school competition for students to submit mural designs for the wall and then vote on the winner.

The design depicts the school’s mascot, a chief with feathered headdress, between the words “Massapequa” and “Chiefs” painted in blue and gold. In the background is an ocean view with sailboats, seagulls and a lighthouse.

This project continues weeks after the Board of Regents unanimously voted to ban the use of Indigenous names and imagery in public schools. While some districts have started to make the required changes, such as Soyesset which voted to remove its mascot and name “The Braves,” Massapequa school officials said they will fight against this ruling.

Massapequa’s Board of Education released a statement on April 18 in response to the ban stating that the Board of Regents is “overextending its reach and removing our local control.”

“We have heard from many members of our community upset by this decision, and we stand beside you,” the statement read. “We are Massapequa and we will not sit idly by while an unelected group of officials tries to remove our history.”

The statement claims its chief mascot is meant to respect and honor Massapequa history.

Germain Smith, secretary of the Shinnecock Council of Trustees, sits on an advisory council to address Indigenous education needs. He disagrees that Indigenous mascots honor Native Americans.

“If you want to honor us, invite us into your schools, learn about our culture, our history, real history,” he said. “We're not a symbol for you to use and in my opinion that is not honoring us in any way.”

Districts have until June 30 to change Indigenous names and mascots. Refusal of this would mean the school is in violation of the Dignity for All Students Act. Districts have until the end of the 2024-2025 school year to remove any Indigenous-themed names or imagery on buildings, clothing, courts and fields. Schools that fail to do so risk losing state aid, and school officials risk their jobs.

The new Massapequa mural will likely need to be replaced when the state ban goes into effect. According to a document obtained by Newsday through a state Freedom of Information Law request, the district estimated the cost of covering the mural would be $3,000.

The school posted a message of support for the mural this week, stating the design was selected and voted on by students and is a tradition that goes back “generations.”

Maria Lynders is a former news fellow at WSHU.