Schools in New York state must stop using Native American references in mascots, team names and logos by the end of the current school year or face penalties including loss of state aid, the state Department of Education said. .
“Arguments that community members support the use of such images or are ‘respectful’ of Native Americans are no longer tenable,” the department said in the memo issued Thursday.
“Students learn both through observation of their environment and through direct instruction,” the memo added. “Boards of education that continue to use Native American mascots need to reflect on the message their choices send to students, parents, and their communities.”
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The memo pointed to a state court’s June ruling in favor of the department over the Cambridge Central School District north of Albany, New York, which decided to stop using a Native American reference in its team name last year only to reverse weeks later.
The state education department, which issued a directive in 2001 for schools to stop using Native American imagery as soon as practical, ordered the district to comply with its initial decision. The memo said that districts that do not have approval from a recognized tribe to continue using the images “must immediately comply.”
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Cambridge Central sued over the order, which a court dismissed. The school district has said it intends to appeal.
Native American activists have spoken about the issue at all levels of sports, from schools to professional leagues for years, seeing change in some teams while others have been resistant.
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The National Congress of American Indians considers pets to be harmful stereotypes. Maintaining a database of K-12 schools that it says have Native American-themed mascots, it puts the number at just over 1,900 schools nationwide in 970 school districts, including more than 100 schools in New York.