The Onteora Central School District High School Human Rights Club is seeking to eliminate the Middle/High School Indian Mascot, through a petition that can be found on the website Change.org, and is making the rounds on Facebook. Created two weeks ago, it seeks 1000 signatures and to date has garnered over 600. Once the goal is at or near completion, it will then be turned over to the Onteora Board of Education.
The petition states, “As proud students, faculty, and community members of the Onteora Central School district, it is our opinion that the Onteora Indian is no longer a suitable mascot for our school.” Across the United States, colleges and High Schools are retiring the Indian Mascot as a sports logo and the petition sites the Adidas sports apparel company offers of financial incentives to schools that drop the Indian symbol and create a new mascot. Additionally the National Congress of American Indians website lists its opposition of Indian Mascots calling it, “derogatory and harmful stereotypes of Native People-including sports mascots-in media and popular culture.”
Opposition to the Mascot removal was quick and fierce when a pro-Indian mascot petition began to circulate through MoveOn.org, finding its way around Facebook. It has since been removed by the website, noting a pending review. Before its removal it had gathered close to 700 signatures with a goal of 750. It’s unclear who started the petition with only a name given as “D” and there is no information on the length of time the site has been active. The petition stated, “The Indian Mascot represents much more than a mascot, it represents bravery, strength, determination, and leadership. For many schools, it represents the heritage of that area, and that should never be taken away. The only people who find this racist, are racist themselves.”
The creators of both petitions are not commenting at this time. In a response to an email, Onteora principal Lance Edelman said that no one was commenting at this time and that school officials were awaiting more information on the petition.
Comments accompanying signatures on both sides of the debate often leaned towards vitriol. Pro-Indian mascot supporter Sean Shultis of Shokan wrote, “These people that are trying to get rid of the Indian name need a good boot in the ass!!”
Anti-Indian mascot supporter Kathy O’Donnell of Shokan wrote, “It’s the right thing to do, and I’m appalled by the counter petition that seeks to perpetuate the backward, racist thinking. Do the right thing, sign and share!”
Historical hornet’s nest
Students complaints about the mascot have been ongoing throughout the halls of the High School, and at school board meetings. Having the Human Rights Club take on this heated issue is akin to poking a hornet’s nest if history is any indication.
In 2000, the Onteora Board of Education partnered with parents who opposed the mascot, and voted 4-3 to approve its removal. This was followed by a contentious and hostile debate that often brought about physical altercations, threats of violence, allegations of racism, derogatory remarks, tires flattened and communities divided. It was eventually overturned by a new Board of Education and public referendum. The majority of votes allowed the mascot to remain in place and the effort to remove it was squashed into silence until now.
During that time, parent Donna Boundy was a vocal anti-Indian mascot supporter and a member of the interracial group of families titled Color. Parent Carol Maltby was a vocal supporter of removing the mascot and both encouraged the Board to vote in favor of its removal. In an interview, Boundy reflected on that time and said Color had received death threats. Both Boundy and Maltby reported finding nails in their tires.
The issue attracted national press from Newsweek and The New York Times. Boundy ran against pro-Indian Mascot supporter Fred Perry for the Board of Education and lost. She described the opposition groups as, “mean spirited,” however holds no ill will towards Perry. Perry did not respond to an email.
Boundy cannot understand why the Onteora community was so reluctant to replace what she described as an “angry primitive stereotype,” representing something from another era. “Rhinebeck changed it with almost no pushback at all,” she said.
Both Boundy and Maltby are happy to see the issue being raised from a grass roots level. Boundy said, “It sounds so much more hopeful since students are behind it.” In a recent email Maltby wrote, “It may be that with the students leading, the community will fall in line behind them. We may be older, wiser, or newer this time around.”