GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Last month, the New York State Education Department issued new guidance on the use of Native American imagery and symbols in mascots, logos, and other parts of school districts around the state. A court decision established that public schools will be prohibited from using Native American mascots, and dismissed arguments that any depiction can be respectful as it is.
Glens Falls City Schools has taken a proactive approach to the school mascot conversation. While some districts have seen conflict and even legal action over whether or not a Native American depiction can stay, schools in the city have been working to open the conversation. The dialogue has taken place under a core mantra: “When we know better, we do better.”
On Monday, Dec. 12, school superintendent Dr. Krislynn Dengler sent out a lengthy presentation on the school’s own Native American imagery – namely a logo with the letters “GF” displayed over an arrowhead, as well as the “Indians” name used for sports teams. The school also uses the phrase “GF Nation” in reference to its student body, although that phrase is not directly targeted by the ruling.
The superintendent’s presentation includes data collected from students – whose voices have been stressed as of the utmost importance to the district. It includes a timeline as to what has to happen by state law, and when. It also includes pages of research into the history of the “Glens Falls Indians” moniker, as well as quotes from Native American groups local and nationwide.
The facts of the matter
As of the court decision, getting rid of Native American imagery is no longer up for debate in New York. Schools that fail to at least create a plan to change existing mascots and logos by the end of the 2022-23 school year may be found in willful violation of the Dignity for All Students Act, which is invoked to guarantee safe space from harassment, discrimination and prejudice on school property. That violation would result in the removal of school officers and the loss of vital state aid.
“Our current student body needs to be a significant driver in this process, and we want them to have a voice in how the district can best represent all of our students moving forward,” the presentation notes. “We will never ignore the opinions and feelings of those who call Glens Falls home, and the students that currently walk our school hallways need to have a role in how our search for a new mascot and logo moves forward.”
From December 2021 to January 2022, Glens Falls High School student Clara Avery surveyed students as part of her International Baccalaureate project. The survey asked members of the Glens Falls student body whether they thought the Native American logo and terminology needed changing. 647 students were surveyed. The results:
- 47.9% votes to keep the existing imagery
- 45.7% votes to change it
- 6.5% uncertain
The “Glens Falls Indians” name, and the district’s association with Native American imagery and themes, dates back to 1941, when “Indians” was adopted for school athletics. It was used as the school’s yearbook theme in 1943, along with a quote attributing competitive spirit and excellence to the figure.
Another yearbook featured in the research dates back to 1970, and features a dedication to Tom Two Arrows, an Onondagan-adopted Native American originally of the Lenni Lenape of Delaware. Two Arrows was an artist commissioned by the Albany Institute of History & Art to create a series of paintings depicting Iroquois games and dances. The yearbook features a sketch by Two Arrows of an Iroquois chieftain’s head in profile.
That very sketch would be adapted into the most recently used Native American mascot icon used by Glens Falls. The presentation notes that some point to the dedication to Two Arrows as respectful, and use it as a reason to keep the school’s theming as-is. The presentation also shows two versions of the current arrowhead logo, but does not give a date at which they started seeing use.
In counter to those arguments, the presentation includes voices from several Native American nations. One comes from Tom Two Arrows’ own nation of Onondaga.
“Natives are the only race depicted as mascots. Society has recognized the inappropriateness of cultures being made into caricatures put on helmets, t-shirts and bumper stickers. The fact that schools and organizations have ‘always’ been the Braves, Chiefs, R-d Men, R-dskins, Warriors, or Indians, does not give the community the right to defame a culture,” the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs writes.
Moving on from the ‘nation’
The presentation ends with a breakdown of Glens Falls City Schools’ next steps. The New York State Board of Regents requires plans to be submitted by the end of the 2022-23 school year that lay out a plan for removing existing mascots and logos by the end of the 2024-25 school year, at the absolute latest.
The rules themselves need some more time to bake at the Regents level. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published on Dec. 28, kickstarting a 60-day public comment period. The proposed amendment is then expected to be adopted permanently in April 2023, becoming effective in May.
That leaves Glens Falls with a few months to plan. The presentation suggests a potential process to decide on a new mascot. The process would have the school community work together to identify “Identity Drivers,” including collective values and inspirations. The district would ask the question: “What do we aspire to be known for?”
That question would be answered by student assembly and other forums, as well as the program Thought Exchange. From there, student and community input would move through a series of assembly and student cabinet meetings, until a final logo and moniker could be voted in by the Board of Education.
The district isn’t alone – in the Washington County community of Cambridge, the state of the school’s “Indian Warrior” mascot came under turmoil after a vote reversal from a shifting school board. Other districts, highlighted by Glens Falls, have already rebranded. The school is looking to districts like Waterloo, Lyme and Paideia as guideposts.
“This doesn’t change history,” the presentation concludes. “Our winning seasons, records, plaques, etc. remain.”
The school district intends to retain its red/black school colors. The “GF Nation” phrase is expected to continue use.
The city of Glens Falls resides on Mohawk, Mohican, Abenaquis and Haudenosaunee land, according to native-land.ca.