COXSACKIE — Mascots related to Native Americans have come under scrutiny in professional and college sports, and now the issue has come to Greene County.
The Coxsackie-Athens Board of Education is considering doing away with its Indians nickname and mascot, and adding Native American history and culture to the district’s curriculum.
Members of the board held a second discussion with Heather Bruegl, cultural affairs director for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. The district held a virtual forum March 3 to discuss the issue, conducted a survey with local residents to gauge public reaction, and March 22 spoke with Bruegl about Stockbridge-Munsee opposition to Native American mascots.
The board held a second question-and-answer session with Bruegl to clarify the matter.
No decision on the name or mascot has been made at this time, Board of Education President Michael Donahue said.
“We are still in the information gathering stage to help us make a decision and I think we are committed to a lot of areas in terms of trying to work on our curriculum development and around indigenous peoples’ culture, history and such, the mascot being a part of that,” Donahue said.
The board is considering adding Native American history and culture to the curriculum, in addition to possibly eliminating the Indians mascot.
“We do see this as a much bigger endeavor we are committed to,” he said.
Many Native American nations strongly oppose using Native mascots and team nicknames and view it as derogatory, Bruegl said.
“This is a huge issue that is steeped in a lot of historical trauma,” Bruegl said.
Some residents who responded to the district’s survey and support keeping the name and mascot say it is not derogatory, but rather a way of honoring the area’s heritage and the resilience and strength of Native peoples.
Bruegl said indigenous people have had to be resilient to contend with what historically has been to them.
“We had to in some way, shape or form, fight back,” Bruegl said. “We are a strong, resilient people — we are not symbols. We are not things to be worn on your football helmets.”
Native mascots open the door to racism, whether intentionally or unintentionally, she said.
“It makes it OK for ‘red face’ to be used or to utilize Native American imagery in a way that is extremely derogatory,” Bruegl said. “Your mascot is the Indian so you go around saying you are Indians — you are not.”
Native American mascots evoke historical trauma, she added.
“When you are using Native Americans as mascots, you are perpetuating that trauma over and over and over again. It’s not right,” Bruegl said. “Personally, I don’t understand why it’s even an issue to change a mascot — it should be a no-brainer. It’s 2021 — it’s time that Native Americans across the board are viewed as the indigenous peoples that we are of this land and that our history is talked about in an accurate and precise way.”
Board member Bart Wallace asked about Native nations that do not oppose mascots.
“How would you explain those Native American tribes who, from what I read, endorse the Indians as a mascot in public schools?” Wallace said. “What have your conversations been like with those tribal communities that see it from a different point of view?”
Some universities, such as Florida State University with its Seminole nickname and mascot, have held discussions with Native nations to come to an agreement, she said.
“Those are agreements that they have between Native nations. That’s their own personal thing — for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, we have issued a tribal council resolution that we do not endorse that at all,” Bruegl said. “That is where we stand on it.”
Board member Kyle Garland asked about retaining any imagery related to indigenous people.
“If we decide to move forward with a change of the logo, if we still relate it to anything Native American, is that still taboo? Like ‘tribe,’ for example,” Garland asked. “I’m just throwing it out there — what do you think about it being related like that?”
The goal would be to retain some of the school’s heritage, he said.
“My thoughts would be absolutely no,” Bruegl responded. “Because wouldn’t you want to be on the right side of history regardless of what connection somebody has — I do not have a connection to my high school mascot anymore. It’s done, it’s over with — you’ve got to move on past that.”
Honoring indigenous peoples and heritage would be more appropriate through teaching the history of the people who once populated the area, Bruegl said.
“If you are going to talk about the indigenous history in the area, it’s not through a mascot,” Bruegl said. “It’s through teaching history, it’s through teaching actual indigenous history, which would be Mohican Nation, who was in that area. It’s acknowledging that the land that school is standing on is stolen territory. That’s how you honor — not through a mascot. It’s time to move on.”
Wallace asked her recommendations should the board decide to do away with the Indians mascot and name.
“Do you have any advice for how we can message our transitioning away from the Indian as a mascot to those in our community who are really holding onto this mascot?” Wallace asked. “I would like to see this group not be discarded. I would like to encourage them in some way or form to look at what we are trying to do here and to move forward with us as we begin to transition.”
Whatever decision is made, there are some in the community who will not be happy, Bruegl said.
“You are not going to bring everyone together and you are not going to make everyone happy,” she said. “Someone is always going to be ticked off. That is OK — let them feel that way and acknowledge it. Try to present what you are doing as something that will be beneficial in the future to your community, to your school, to your students and to the indigenous community as a whole, as you are trying to be on the right side of history and do something really important.”
The district is looking to make a decision on the matter soon, Donahue said.