COXSACKIE — The Coxsackie-Athens school board is moving forward with coming up with a new mascot and team name as controversy continues to swirl around the decision to retire the old one.
The board of education voted June 17 to shelve the Indians mascot amid public demands both for and against doing away with the name and image.
Coxsackie resident David Finkenbinder, a registered member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, made a last-ditch effort at the board’s Tuesday meeting to urge officials to reverse the decision.
“I was never offended by the use of mascots or being called an Indian. I have asked my Native family and my Native friends if they were ever offended by the use of Indian mascots by schools. Not one was offended,” Finkenbinder said. “In fact, they are all proud and want the mascots used.”
Finkenbinder’s Native name is Wanblee Ohitika, which translates into “Brave Eagle,” he said.
Eliminating Indians-related mascots is a way of canceling the Native culture, he added.
“Removing the Indians mascot is just another way of non-Indians trying to erase our great Indian history and culture. This is wrong,” Finkenbinder said. “One cannot change history by ignoring it. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. This great country of America cannot afford to repeat some of its history.”
Several local residents also emailed the board voicing opinions both for and against the decision.
The board of education is moving ahead with a committee that will come up with recommendations for a new mascot.
“We formed a task force for the C-A Rebranding Committee,” board member Tara Bachner said Tuesday. “We are starting our meetings next week and we will be meeting biweekly. We have a really great group of volunteers from staff, students and community members. We included community members from both sides — so either for or against.”
The task force, which numbers 15 members at this time, will develop several surveys seeking input from the community over the summer and fall. The first step will be to come up with criteria for what the new mascot should convey, she said.
Once a recommended replacement is identified, the board of education will have final say over the decision.
Some suggestions have been made, Bachner said.
“We have gotten a bunch of names that have come through, but we want to see if other community members had [ideas],” Bachner said. “Then the goal will be to take those and send out another survey with a [priority] number for people to vote on the choices.”
The task force is also working with faculty to come up with an educational component, teaching students in all grades about the Native history of the area.
“The K-4 has sent us a proposal and they are working on trying to include it throughout their different curriculums,” Bachner said. “The high school and middle school are still working on it. We are hoping for more of an update in August on what will be implemented in the older grades.”
Board member Ina Guilzon has taken the lead in working with a Native group to come up with a land acknowledgement, Bachner said. Land acknowledgement is a statement that recognizes that indigenous peoples are the original stewards of the land where the school district is now located.
In addition to a new name, the district will coordinate with the design firm that works on the student store to create new mascot imagery. There will be no cost for the design work, District Superintendent Randall Squier said.
“Once we decide on a mascot they will work with us, supply us with an artist and a design team and we will keep going back and forth until we are happy with it,” Squier said. “We will own the rights to the image so we won’t have to pay a copyright or anything like that.”
Free design work will save the district a great deal of money, Bachner said.
“That is a huge asset — to have that for free — because it would be very expensive if we paid someone to do that,” she said.