COXSACKIE — The Coxsackie-Athens school district is in search of a new mascot and team name.
The board of education voted June 17 to retire the district’s long-time mascot, the Indians. The district is now considering its next steps to come up with a new symbol to represent Coxsackie-Athens schools.
District Superintendent Randall Squier presented to the Athens Village Board on Wednesday what the plans are to come up with a replacement.
“Last week the board of education voted to retire the mascot, the image of the Indians. That was after lots of conversation,” Squier told the board. “The next step is the board of education liaison committee is reaching out to those who had expressed interest along the way, both for and against the topic, to be on a committee to determine what the mascot and name will be.”
The Indians mascot was retired in a 6-3 vote June 17 after months of surveys, meetings and forums over whether the Native American imagery was offensive and hurtful. The district had several discussions with a representative from the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, the Native nation that once populated the lands where Coxsackie and Athens now sit.
The issue was hotly debated on both sides.
Now, the district will take on the task of transitioning away from the Indians name and imagery, and coming up with a new mascot.
“That will start up this summer and it will continue throughout the early fall,” Squier told the village board. “They will have several votes in the community and within the school and with the students to pick a new mascot for C-A.”
In addition to coming up with a new mascot, the district will next begin building a curriculum that will educate students in kindergarten through 12th grade on the indigenous peoples who lived in the area and begin the process of instituting a land acknowledgement — a formal statement that recognizes that indigenous peoples were dispossessed from the lands where the district now stands.
The goal is to honor and respect Native Americans.
Transitioning away from the Indians mascot will take time, several board members said June 17.
“It’s going to take several years to get it off our uniforms, off our flooring, things of that nature,” said board of education member Barton Wallace, who voted against retiring the mascot.
Board member Tara Bachner, who headed up the liaison committee tasked with conducting the review process, said some districts are removing similar mascots abruptly.
“Other school districts are retiring the Native American mascot and throwing it out right away. They are saying, ‘We are done with it. We know that it’s not working and we don’t want to remember that,’” Bachner said. “One of the biggest things we talked about was that it is a big part of the school’s history — [other] schools are taking down plaques that say ‘Indians’ and they are removing all of those things. For a lot of us that went here, that would be very hurtful.”
The liaison committee discussed leaving plaques and awards with the Indians mascot in place, but moving away from the mascot in the future.
“One of the biggest things we talked about was leaving those things that have that history and that memory for people, but recognizing that we realize we were insensitive in using that term and moving forward,” Bachner said.
Phasing out the name and imagery would be the committee’s recommendation, Bachner said.
Replacing uniforms will take time, she added.
“It would take us three years to get all new uniforms on the current rotation that they are on, as well as the gymnasiums and those types of things,” Bachner said. “A third of our uniforms already don’t have an identity on them besides Coxsackie-Athens, and another third of them don’t have the Indians mascot on them — they just have our new logo, a few feathers. We have kind of been transitioning for a while now.”
Phasing out the mascot and implementing the educational program will both take time, Board of Education President Michael Donahue said.
“This is the first step of a long walk,” he said.
The board’s liaison committee has the names of about 20 people — both for and against retiring the mascot — willing to serve on a new community committee, composed of students, teachers and community stakeholders, to consider a new mascot and name. Those ideas would then be put to the students to get their input, Bachner said.
“[The students] are a big aspect of this and need to be included,” she said. “What type of mascot are they looking for moving forward? What do they want representing them as a whole body? What will they feel proud of and be able to chant at games and those types of things? After students shrink it down, we can bring it back to the board for a decision.”
The process will take time, Bachner said.
“It’s not something that will happen in a month or two,” she added.
The district hopes to have narrowed down the selection of choices to a few options by late fall, Squier said in a statement.