The New York Board of Regents has officially banned all uses of Indigenous imagery and names as school mascots, per a report from Albany-based paper Times-Union

The vote came unanimously Tuesday morning following a proposal announced by New York State’s education department in November. Some districts have gotten ahead of the curve by preemptively changing their mascots, the Times-Union reports, but others attempted to make slighter changes in a bid to keep names like “raiders” or “warriors” sans Indigenous imagery. 

An advisory group of Indigenous people roundly rejected those proposed changes and called an argument that such terms communicated respect for their subject matter untrue, pointing to the phrases’ implication of “revering an exterminated group.” 

Never miss Indian Country’s biggest stories and breaking news. Sign up to get our reporting sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning. 

The announcement caused a flurry of protests among residents in Rotterdam, N.Y., in the Mohonasen Central School District, which uses the term “Warriors” as their mascot alongside a logo of three Indigenous faces. Facebook groups surrounding the district were inundated with complaints of changing too much, too fast, in the midst of an overly sensitive public. 

Mohonasen Superintendent Shannon Shine wrote in a letter to the community that he planned to seek legal counsel regarding the name change. 

“Time is needed to digest the information, to seek legal counsel, to see what additional information is put forward from the NYS Education Department and the NYS Board of Regents, and to plan to further engage with our community stakeholders (parents, alumni, students, faculty/staff, and residents) regarding the new regulations,” Shine wrote. 

One route could be securing the blessing of an Indigenous tribe, a venue left open in the Board of Regents’ announcement — but New York State tribes such as the Oneida have already promised to deny such support to anyone, per the Times-Union report. 

Tuesday’s vote represents the culmination of an effort that began in 2001 under former Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, according to the proposal summary published to the Board of Regents’ website. Mills issued a memorandum “concluding that the Use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students.” 

The proposal also builds off of legal precedent established through Cambridge Central School Dist. et al. v New York State Education Dept., et al. in which the Cambridge education board first retired the use of its “Indians” mascot and then attempted to walk that back, prompting a community petition to the Commissioner of Education Betty A. Rosa. 

Both Rosa’s initial decision and a later appeal before the State Supreme Court held that Cambridge’s attempt to walk back their retirement of the “Indians” name was “arbitrary” and that the original resolution to retire the name should be upheld. 

The decision will go into effect officially on May 3, though education officers expect legal resistance from some schools in the state, the Times-Union reports. 

More Stories Like This

Native American High School Graduate Sues School District for Forceful Removal of Sacred Eagle Plume at Graduation
Little Priest Tribal College Awarded a National Science Foundation Grant
The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Donates $2.7 million to Sherman Indian High School for Career Pathways Program
Harvard Kennedy School to Expand Work with Native Nations

Native News is free to read.

We hope you enjoyed the story you've just read. For the past dozen years, we’ve covered the most important news stories that are usually overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the rise of the American Indian Movement (AIM), to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous People (MMIP) and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools.

Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps.  Most readers donate between $10 and $25 to help us cover the costs of salaries, travel and maintaining our digital platforms. If you’re in a position to do so, we ask you to consider making a recurring donation of $12 per month to join the Founder's Circle. All donations help us remain a force for change in Indian Country and tell the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Native News Online Staff
Author: Native News Online StaffEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Native News Online is one of the most-read publications covering Indian Country and the news that matters to American Indians, Alaska Natives and other Indigenous people. Reach out to us at [email protected].