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Mahopac Forced To Address Mascot Name Change

By Holly Crocco

The Mahopac School Board will be asking the community whether it would like to try to keep the “Mahopac Indians” name and mascot for the district, or go in another direction.

While the matter has been brought up throughout the years, it came to ahead in November after the State Education Department declared that districts need to eliminate any mascots, logos and imagery that have to do with Native Americans. Local school boards must adopt their plans to do so by the end of this school year.

However, if a district is able to get approval from a federally-recognized tribal nation in New York State to keep its name and mascot, SED has said it will let the name remain.

If a district does not adhere to SED’s directive, it could face removal of state aid, and district administration and elected officials may be removed from office.

“I think what we’re hearing from people is the importance of recognizing that indigenous people lived here in our community before we did,” said Superintendent Christine Tona during the board’s Dec. 20 work session meeting.

She explained that the district has taken many steps over the years to eliminate Native American headdress imagery, and the community now cheers “Go ’Pac” at sporting events, as opposed to “Go Indians.” She said the district will be seeking clarification from the state as to whether its current logo – which adorns many buildings, fields, gymnasium floors, clothing and uniforms – is acceptable.

“Our current logo is the ‘M’ with a lance going through it, with an arrow head and a feather,” explained Tona. “We’re not sure if the state is going got say that would be Native American imagery.”

The superintendent said the district is feeling the pressure to pick a direction, as the high school turf field is scheduled to be replaced this summer and if the logo adorning it is going to be changed, the vendor needs to know.

“If we want to have a field ready for the summer when they put the new carpet down, we need to make a decision,” she said. “Do we want to change that to just an ‘M’ in the center of the field just to be safe?”

Board member David Furfaro said the discussion regarding the district’s mascot is long overdue.

“We’ve had this on our plate – I’ve been on the board for five years – for probably four of those years,” he said. “So, I firmly believe that we should have this discussion… We have to listen to opinions that we like and don’t like. We can’t just live in a vacuum.”

Board member Tanner McCracken agreed, suggesting the district create an ad hoc committee to solicit public opinion, hold a town hall-style meeting, and host a public vote.

“A mascot is supposed to invoke pride,” he said. “This is something that everybody in the community should be voting on.”

Further, McCracken said it’s important that, if the district chooses to seek tribal recognition to keep the “Indians” name and mascot, it is doing so in a way that honors and recognizes the area’s history, and informs and educates the students – and the entire community.

“Think about the blue and gold signs around town that talk about the history of George Washington walking up the road up there (in the hamlet),” he said. “Where are the signs around campus talking about the Wappinger tribe when it was here?”

McCracken and fellow board member Jonathan Schneider agreed that the district should try to obtain tribal recognition, regardless of whether the district keeps its current name or opts for a new one, because of timetable set forth by SED.

“We should be working on getting the tribal recognition even if the advisory vote comes back and says ‘absolutely not,’” said Schneider. “At least we know, if it comes back ‘absolutely,’ we’re not behind the eight ball and already in trouble… I speak with so many residents who overwhelmingly find pride in the name ‘Indians.’”

Board Vice President Adam Savino said this will not be an easy decision to make.

“I don’t think there’s anybody who says ‘We are the Indians’ meant with disrespect,” he said. “It’s meant with honor… I think it would be wrong if we just pushed it aside and said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to take it and change who we are.’ We are Mahopac. We are proud of who we are. We are proud of the area and the history surrounding it.”

Board President Ben DiLullo agreed.

“I think one of the most important things is… we need to infuse the history of this district, the history of this area into the students and the children of the district,” he said.

“The best way to respect indigenous people of our area is for our students to truly understand what this region was like many years ago, and how it’s been created based on the hard work of people who lived here long ago,” added Tona.

The board and administration will be communicating with SED to get further clarification about obtaining tribal recognition, and what specific changes need to be made, before going forward.


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