New York’s Education Department is telling high schools to dump their Native American mascots by the end of the school year – or risk losing state funding in 2023.
The move follows a June 2022 ruling against the upstate Cambridge Central School District, which sought to hold onto its “Indians” identity, despite decades of advocacy by indigenous groups saying such monikers disrespect native people.
“Public school districts are prohibited from utilizing Native American mascots. Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable,” reads a Nov. 17 letter from the State Education Department to local districts.
School districts who refuse to adopt less offensive athletic avatars could face “the removal of school officers and the withholding of State Aid,” the letter adds while acknowledging that Cambridge is now turning over a new leaf on the matter.
At least 133 schools in 55 districts had native-themed mascots as of March 2022, according to a report by the National Congress of American Indians, which noted that schools from Suffolk County
The State Education Department did not immediately provide comment Friday about its own tally, though a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education confirmed there are none within the five boroughs.
New York City began stripping controversial names like “Indians” and “Chiefs” from local high schools at the turn of the century following a push by the State Education Department.
State lawmakers have also introduced legislation in recent years to prod schools outside the city.
The battle over indigenous representations in sports has also affected pro sports, with baseball’s Cleveland Guardians and the NFL’s Washington Commanders ditching their controversial Native American names.
Native American groups say such representations of their diverse cultures do much more harm than good no matter the civic pride and local history they purportedly represent to their defenders.
“Widely consumed images of Native American stereotypes in commercial and educational environments slander, defame, and vilify Native peoples, Native cultures, and tribal nations, and continue a legacy of racist and prejudiced attitudes,” reads a 2013 NCAI report.
“In particular, the ‘savage’ and ‘clownish’ caricatures used by sports teams with ‘Indian’ mascots contribute to the “savage” image of Native peoples and the myth that Native peoples are an ethnic group ‘frozen in history,” the report added.