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Panel advises NY State Department of Education to ban schools from using any names associated with indigenous people

Names like "warriors" and "raiders' would be prohibited under recommendations

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In about three weeks, if the NY State Department of Education adopts the recommendations of an advisory panel, all names of school sports teams which could even loosely be associated with indigenous people would be prohibited, according to a report which first appeared in the Albany Times Union over the weekend.

More than 20 years ago, the state education commissioner at the time told schools to cease using Native American mascots as soon as practical. 

In the years since many have done so, while also voluntarily retiring team names like Redskins, Indians, and Chiefs.

Last year the state education upped the ante for other districts which haven't followed suit, which were told that unless they stopped using Native American symbols or mascots as part of their school name, sports teams, or logos they could face sanctions including the removal of their duly elected board members or a loss in state aid. 

Several schools then asked if they could apply to keep certain names, such as Warriors or Raiders, if there was no imagery or connotation to Indigenous people associated with them.

However, a panel comprised of Native Americans appointed by the State Education Department to review the applications summarily rejected each one of them.

No Dice

"The idea of burying a logo or an image doesn't mean those words don't have the same effect," said John Kane, a Western New Yorker who is a member of the panel. 

Kane, who is also the creator and host of Let's Talk Native said, "If you bore that name for 60 to 70 years with a native reference...simply changing the logos doesn't change much. Obviously, there's only one reason to keep the name and change the logo, and it's because they don't want to change. This is the problem we have as native people; the manipulation some of the schools are trying to do to keep from really changing"

Banning any name that could even be loosely associated with native people recently caused Jamestown Public Schools to announce that it would no longer use the name Red Raiders, even though it had previously gotten rid of a mascot depicting the letter "J" composed of feathers, and replaced it with a big red cat. 

The Webster School District near Rochester kept the name Warriors, but adopted a logo depicting a medieval knight. 

"They should just call themselves the Knights, then," Kane said.

Chances of Not Changing Appear Slim

One district which proposed to keep the name Braves, but associate the nickname with the last line of the U.S. National Anthem: “The home of the Brave.” also had its application rejected

Even in cases where schools have claimed that names such as "Braves" are meant to honor native people, and not disparage them, Kane and other panel members had objections.

"You're taking our (Native American) identity and claiming it for yourselves. And in doing so you project characteristics that may or may not be true about us," Kane said.

Under the proposed policy, there is an exception for a school to use a name with indigenous connotation, if it receives written permission from a federally recognized tribe in New York state.

The Canandaigua City School District, whose teams have long been the Braves, contacted the Seneca Nation of Indians and noted the name “Canandaigua” is an Indian name translating to “The Chosen Place.”    

However, according to the Finger Lakes Times, Seneca Nation President Ricky Armstrong wrote back to the Superintendent of Schools and agreed that while the school made a strong case given the area's Native American history, the tribe is "not interested in making a decision on this issue, which they did not create.” 

This has left the school district to consider changing its nickname to "The Brave", in honor of the bravery of veterans treated at the Canandaigua VA Hospital.

But even that might not hold water. 

Watkins Glen Central Schools, which hoped to keep the nickname "Senecas", but make it in reference to the finger lake upon which shores it lies, also had its application rejected.

Watch our interview with panel member John Kane below

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