Letter: ‘Indian’ names and mascots

Dear Editor,

James Baldwin, the Senior Deputy Commissioner for Education Policy at the New York State Education Department, recently directed that districts have to change the “Indian” names of their sports teams. Owego is supposedly the “Coolest Small Town in America”, but the comments against the directive and the false blaming of Governor Kathy Hochul, Democrats, and Liberals refute that.

In 1968, the National Congress of American Indians launched a campaign to end “Indian” mascots. Yes, 54 years ago! Their website states, “Sports mascots are symbols of disrespect that degrade mock and harm Native people.” No matter what the particular intent or image, it is cultural appropriation and that’s not acceptable. 

Consider the following history. In 1969, Dartmouth College changed to the “Big Green”. In 1972, Dickinson State (North Dakota) changed to the “Blue Hawks”. In 1988 the Minnesota State Board of Education adopted a resolution stating that “the use of mascots, emblems, or symbols depicting American Indian culture or race [is] unacceptable.” 

In 1991 and 1992, The National Education Association (NEA) passed resolutions “denouncing the use of ethnic related sports team mascots, symbols, and nicknames.” In 1994, Marquette University changed its mascot to the Golden Eagles. In 1996, Newtown High School in Sandy Hook, Conn. changed to “Nighthawks.”

In 2001 Richard Mills, head of the New York State Education Department, called for the retirement of “Indian” sports team nicknames, mascots and logos from its public schools. And that same year the United States Commission on Civil Rights issued a statement, calling for educational institutions to avoid use of such ethnic nicknames and mascots. That was 21 years ago!

Last week James Baldwin’s letter directed school districts to eliminate Indian logos, etc. by the end of the school year or face consequences. His letter referenced a ruling from the Albany Supreme Court, which stated, “Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable.”  

While Baldwin’s letter includes a provision for an exception if a current tribe approves of the use of a particular mascot, and in 2016 some interaction with someone from the Iroquois Nation indicated such approval, I’m uncomfortable using a generic label “Indian” for what are actually various groups of real people as a rallying cry to win sporting events.  

Any fair reading of history shows that this is a nationwide movement spanning five decades, one that began long before Governor Hochul’s time in office and definitely before certain media popularized the term “woke”. Any statement to the contrary is a clear attempt to malign those working to rectify how our institutions engage with cultural diversity. 

Perhaps, instead of blaming Liberals, we could ask ourselves why anyone would advocate against making this change in the first place.

Sincerely,

Joan Davis

Owego, N.Y.

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