LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – At a time when sports mascots have come under scrutiny for racial sensitivity, schools as a whole are facing the same questions. In the village of Lake George, the question is not around a sports team, but the current mascot of the school as a whole.
Lake George Central School District has started that very conversation around the Native American warrior in full headdress that has served as the district’s logo and sports team mascot since the 1960s. The school board’s Nov. 9 meeting passed a resolution intended to open up discussion. But the move has been in the works for some time.
“Over the last two years, spurred by name and mascot changes of professional sports teams, the board’s culture and climate committee posed this question to our school administrators: ‘What is our educational responsibility around the Native American image?'” said Tricia Biles, president of the Lake George Board of Education.
Biles said the roots of the discussion date back to 2001 when the New York State Education Commissioner released guidance on phasing out Native American imagery. The more recent two years of discussion have led to the board learning that there are no policies in place at Lake George that dictate how imagery should be used to represent the district – even if that imagery has negative racial connotations.
Meanwhile, about 45 miles southeast, Cambridge Central School District has been eyeing its own”Indian” mascot – and barred from using it by the state commissioner. Cambridge’s school board voted to remove the mascot in June, only to be countered by a newly-elected board voting to keep it the very next month.
Cambridge residents eventually petitioned the commissioner on the issue. While the ultimate decision by the school district remains under litigation, the district has complied with the order, removing the image from all places that would not cost a large amount of money to change. Biles said that what has happened in Cambridge has shown Lake George how to tread in their own work.
“It became clear to the board that we have an immediate educational responsibility to our students and community,” she said. “This responsibility includes intentionality, openness and transparency in regards to how our district is represented.”
Lake George’s decision can only come after discussion and public comment. School Interim Superintendent Doug Huntley is expected to share updates on how the district will proceed in December’s school board meeting.
Meanwhile, Biles said that community input is a given, as part of the school’s commitment to shared decision-making. That means acknowledging the good intentions some still feel towards the current Native American mascot, while simultaneously facing the inherent stereotypes. It also means involving those who want to avoid the topic altogether.
“Now that it is designated a heritage image, the question becomes what is the appropriate way to use it,” she said. “That question opens the door for learning more about our history, identity, and differences in perspective.”
The village of Lake George is no stranger to Native American roles in local history. The region was originally inhabited by tribes including Mohawk, Oneida and Algonquin. It was also the site of the Battle of Lake George, during the French and Indian War.
In Battlefield Park, that event has been the subject of presentations and reenactments by local historical groups, near Fort William Henry. But for anyone prepared to defend the school mascot on historical grounds, Biles made an important clarification.
“Clip-art image of a Plains Indian in a war bonnet is not historically accurate to our region.”
Lake George’s next school board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. It will be inside the library at Lake George Jr.-Sr. High School.