West Seneca West Athletics, Change our Mascot from the Indians

West Seneca West Athletics, Change our Mascot from the Indians

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June 23, 2020 
West Seneca Central School District 
Board of Education 
675 Potters Rd 
West Seneca, NY 14224 
 
To the Administration of the West Seneca Central School District,  
 
My name is Heather Larkin, a proud alumna of the class of 2009 at West Seneca West. I am writing you today to ask on behalf of many concerned community members that West Seneca West officially change its mascot from the Indians. As of June 23, 2020, 42 people have signed a petition tied to this letter.  


This icon surely originated at a way of paying homage and respect to the nations that originally inhabited our area. To continue to pay this same respect, the school district should discontinue use of the outdated “Indian” mascot. The name West Seneca West will continue to pay tribute to the Seneca Nation, as well as the coming Red Jacket statue, regardless of official mascot.  


I will admit, it was not until I had taken the time to read articles from the perspective of many Indigenous people that I saw an issue in the mascot at all. The fact that “Indian” is problematic can be difficult to discuss with our students when the school has official ties to the term. Similar to ‘negro’ or “Oriental’, its use in the official capacity is closely tied to colonialism and structures of white supremacy. Thus, it is considered by many to be inappropriate and outdated when used by a non-Indigenous person or organization. 


Over the last 15 years, we have seen growing traction for the Indigenous groups who have long voiced concern over appropriation of the costumes reserved for formal or sacred events in their culture. These concerns can often sound abstract and fail to resonate with non-Indigenous people. I hope the following analogies can begin to put into perspective how disrespectful and uncomfortable this imagery is.

 
Many of the residents of West Seneca would feel uncomfortable if they witnessed youth running around wearing rosaries around their neck just to celebrate a sports game. If during the background search for a job, you found your candidate with an image of Jesus of Nazareth tattooed, wearing thong underwear, and acting in a vulgar or violent way, it would leave a foul taste in your mouth. It may sound ridiculous, and yet, I have a wrestling hoodie with an Indigenous man in a singlet and a ritual headdress standing over a pile of knocked out men on the ground with smaller headdresses. One of them hangs from the hand clutched around their throat. Keeping the mascot in place will either open the door for more of these untasteful representations, or place undue burden on the administration.  


If during the revelry of homecoming, one of our students were to show up in the parking lot with a headdress, or make mocking calls which were recorded, this could haunt them the rest of their professional life. There is a good chance you have seen the images of President Justin Trudeau dressed in black face any time someone hopes to discredit his authority. As our students seek acceptance to their dream school or elite job, there will always be an equally qualified candidate out there without this unflattering mark on their record. We are setting each of them up for failure by maintaining the Indian as our mascot. Whether we agree with this cultural shift or condemn it as “PC culture”, the fact remains that the outside world will not forgive our young students for having no other mascot to choose from. They will be passed over for the next candidate or be ousted from a high profile position. 


 At present, the Athletics Department is laden with extra meetings and trainings just to advise the coaches that teams should not to put their own mascot on their apparel anymore, and it is too large a burden to review every design submitted. The department suffers further if the mascot remains in place and they continue to lose out on donations from concerned community members. 


It is time we stop opening the door for appropriation which the students may perceive as sanctioned by the school, and just replace the mascot with something we can all get behind. My neighbor (who is in her 80’s!) suggested opening it up to students as a competition, which is a wonderful idea. It could be an animal native to western New York, or something creative the students will come up with that I can’t even guess.  

Participation in athletics at the school was a formative experience to who I am, and I cherish it forever. In my time, I participated in field hockey, softball, track and field, lacrosse, and men’s wrestling. The decision to honor Title IX by allowing me and other women to participate in wrestling was a progressive choice which brought much praise to the district. I am sure it is one of the reasons I was accepted to an Ivy League university. I encourage you to see this as yet another opportunity to evolve together and create a more beautiful experience in athletics for everyone.  


I hope this letter has made it clear that I am very sentimental about the West Seneca athletics program.  However, none of our sentimental attachments to the program are worth the damage that keeping the mascot wreaks. We as alumni have nothing to lose from the change of our high school mascot. Maintaining the “Indian” puts our students at a disadvantage, places undue burden on the administration, and alienates, rather than includes our community.  
 
With great respect,  
Heather Larkin 

Please find the beautiful letter of support from the Seneca Nation below. 

 

Dear Heather, 

The Western New York region has a long and important connection to Native American culture and history. This area is and always has been home to the Seneca Nation, one of the six nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Our history predates that of the United States, and our people have played a central role in the history and life of the Western New York we know today. 

Seneca and Native American culture are reflected in the names of countless streets, towns, and locations throughout Western New York. Unfortunately, we also see the continued use of names and imagery, particularly in athletics programs that degrade, mock, and offend Native traditions, Native culture, and Native people. 

The time for change has long since arrived, and the call should be heeded.

The continued use of anti-Native nicknames and imagery is an affront to the very tenets of unity and inclusion upon which the United States is built. Like all Native people, the Seneca people have seen the indignity of having our language and culture stripped from us, and our spirit and heritage and race assaulted time and time again. That is not something that should be celebrated in the name of sportsmanship nor used to identify the character of a school community. 

Cultural tolerance and sensitivities are an important part of the national and local dialogue. As educational institutions, local school districts can now teach an important and valuable lesson in their communities. Unity and tolerance begin with dialogue, respect, and understanding. We are open to being partners in the important conversations that need to happen, so that our community can positively reflect all of its residents and the history that shaped Western New York. 

The Seneca Nation is proud to lend our voice, and the voice of the nearly 8,000 Seneca people living throughout the world, to this growing chorus for change and respect. 


Nya:weh

Rickey L. Armstrong, Sr., President