CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Tuesday, a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of the New York State Department of Education regarding the mascot of Cambridge Central School District. The ultimatum: Intervention by the state Education Commissioner was sound, and the mascot will have to come down.
Last June, the Cambridge School Board voted to retire its “Indian Warrior” school mascot, citing concerns over cultural sensitivity. The situation quickly became complicated – a month after the vote, a seat on the school board changed hands. With a new face in the room, the board voted again, this time deciding to reverse the decision.
Intervention from Education Commissioner Betty Rosa was summoned by a group of concerned parents. After being petitioned and reviewing the situation, Rosa sustained the group’s appeal, calling for Cambridge to remove the mascot from all school building and sports team use by July 1.
Rosa’s decision was challenged by the school board and the district, who called the decision “arbitrary and capricious.” On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Sara McGinty ruled otherwise. The court decision includes a detailed review of input from the Cambridge community, as well as Native American tribes and groups local to the region, and the NAACP. Every group that provided input was also involved in the initial decision to remove the mascot. Documents from the case report that no evidence could be found that the school board reached out to any of those groups for further input after the pivotal board seat changed hands.
“The July resolution acknowledges that the National Council of American Indians and other professional organizations urge the elimination of ‘Native ‘themed’ mascots,’ but there is no meaningful explanation as to why the evidence which was so compelling in June was given short shrift only three weeks later,” the judgment reads in part. “Instead of objective evidence, the July resolution relied on the urgings of David Honyoust, a district resident, a member of the Haudenosaunee Nation, and the grandfather of a board member. Honyoust, however, spoke only for himself. He was not an elected or appointed representative of the Haudenosaunee Nation, whose ancestors occupied the lands now used by the district.”
The determination goes on to describe a 2021 statement on behalf of the Haudenosaunee Nation which called use of the “Indian warrior” mascot to be offensive and defamatory. The decision also makes mention of the district’s choice to veer off from its own diversity policy – which was invoked as a motivating reason to remove the mascot in the first place.
The petition against Rosa has been dismissed, meaning that her ruling remains in effect. The district has until July 1 to cease the use of the mascot.
John Kane, a Mohawk Native American and podcast host is a Cambridge alum who has been actively involved in trying to get the district to remove the mascot. He hopes the Education Commissioner’s involvement and the court’s rejection of the district’s appeal are steps toward removing offensive mascots in districts elsewhere.
“I’m hoping that Rosa will do more, and we’ll see this be a notice put out to other schools that you’ve got to fix this,” Kane said.
The Cambridge Central School District released this statement Wednesday afternoon:
“Last evening, the district received the New York State Supreme Court of Albany County’s decision rejecting the appeal to maintain the Indians nickname and imagery. The Board has a previously scheduled meeting tonight to enter executive session about another matter and will also discuss the details of the case with the attorneys. A more detailed update will be shared with the public at the July 7 Board meeting.”