ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The New York State Education Department is requiring schools with a Native American mascot to find a replacement by the end of the 2022-23 school year. The directive applies to mascots, team names, and logos.

The education department sent the ruling to all New York school districts in a memo on Thursday, November 17. It stems from controversy surrounding the “Indians” mascot in the Cambridge Central School District.

The Cambridge school board first voted to change the mascot in June 2021. A month later, several school board seats changed hands, and the new board voted to reverse that decision and reinstate the mascot. A group of concerned parents then petitioned New York State Department of Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s office and asked her to intervene.

Rosa upheld the decision to change the mascot. After being challenged again on the decision by the school board, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the state education department regarding the mascot. Therefore, the district was ordered to completely retire the use of the Native American warrior mascot, as well as the “Indians” name used for school sports teams, by July 1, 2022. The board, however, has authorized the district’s legal counsel to file a Notice of Appeal.

In the memo to all school districts, Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin said the department stands by the court’s decision on Cambridge’s mascot. He writes:

“Thus, the court’s decision establishes that 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.”

If schools want to keep their mascots, they must have expressed approval from a recognized Native American tribe. Those who do not comply with NYSED’s ruling are at risk of having school officers removed and state aid withheld.

Other Capital Region school districts that may fit the criteria for a name or logo change include:

Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Indians
Glens Falls Indians
Schoharie Indians
Fonda-Fultonville Braves
Stillwater Warriors
Hoosic Valley Indians
Mohonasen Warriors
Averill Park Warriors
Corinth Tomahawks

NEWS10 has previously spoken to John Kane, who is of Mohawk descent and a Cambridge alumni. He was one of the earliest voices pushing the district to change the mascot.

“The problem is that we’re a living, breathing, and existing people,” he told NEWS10 in 2021. “So our imagery being dehumanized in this fashion, no matter what anybody wants to talk about as far as honor and respect, it isn’t, it doesn’t.”

But not everyone feels the same. Dillon Honyoust has Native American heritage and is a member of the Cambridge school board. He was disappointed in the education department’s ruling and believes it does more harm than good.

“When you’re talking about erasing all of the imagery and taking away potential learning opportunities, educational opportunities for our kids, when you remove all of that, you’re removing the history,” he said. “So the big thing that I would say is that it’s education. We need to educate, not eradicate.”

NEWS10 has reached out to many local districts that could be impacted. Glens Falls City Schools said they would comply with the ruling. We are waiting on responses from the other districts.

NYSED’s memo can be read in-full below: