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NY school district ordered to drop its 'Indians' mascot and logo for good

The sign outside of Cambridge Central School District's grounds, displaying their "Indians" logo.
Madison Amico
The sign outside of Cambridge Central School District's grounds, displaying their "Indians" logo.

A school district in Washington County will have to cease using its "Indians" mascot and logo by next summer.

The school board of the Cambridge school district, near Saratoga Springs, had voted last summer to retire the "Indians" mascot, name, and logo. But a few weeks later, a newly elected school board reversed course. A group of residents petitioned the state education department to intervene.

State education commissioner Betty Rosa issued a final ruling Monday, writing that the use of the mascot and logo "inhibits the creation of 'a safe and supportive environment' for all students." She ruled Cambridge has to fully eliminate the mascot name and logo by July 1, 2022.

According to one database of school mascots, more than 120 schools in New York State still use Native American-related mascots.

Rosa also wrote it is "reasonable to conclude" the use of indigenous names, symbols, and stereotypes at any school could violate the state's Dignity For All Students Act. But she stopped short of banning such mascots at schools across New York.

In a brief statement, the Cambridge school board said it was "disappointed" with the commissioner's decision. Board president Jessica Ziehm didn't respond to a request for an interview to explain the board's response more fully.

In a text to NCPR, however, board member Neil Gifford, who had been board president when the initial vote to retire the mascot was made, disagreed. "It is imperative that we as leaders in public education advance understanding and empathy," he wrote. "Eliminating race-based mascots appears consistent with that aspiration."

In the North Country, Saranac Lake, Massena, and Peru are all schools that have dropped their native mascots in recent years. Lake George is currently considering what to do with its current "Indian warrior" mascot and logo.

The state education department has urged schools to phase out their Native mascots since 2001, without requiring them to do so. The National Congress of American Indians and the American Psychological Association have long called for Native mascots to be retired.

Read more stories from North Country Public Radio