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Cambridge Indians Mascot Up For Another Discussion Today

Cambridge Indians Logo & Moniker
Cambridge Indians Football
Cambridge Indians Logo & Moniker

Once a symbol of school spirit, a mascot is dividing residents of a Washington County school district. A meeting tonight could decide the issue.

Back in November the push was on to cancel Cambridge Central School's mascot and moniker, the Indians, after several professional sports teams banished their old images and associations as part of the national racial reckoning.

Credit @letstalknative / twitter
John Kane is a Native American activist who attended Cambridge Central School from the third grade until he graduated from high school in 1978.

John Kane came from western New York to speak during a regularly scheduled Cambridge school board meeting, asking the panel to explore changing the logo and mascot. Kane is a Native American activist who attended CCS from the third grade until he graduated from high school in 1978. He hopes people listened to and learned from his brief talk.

"How is it appropriate that a village or town of predominantly white people, Cambridge is like 94, 95% white. How is it appropriate for a town to adopt a people who are the victims of genocide by white people? They were murdered, we were scalped, we were, we were enslaved, we were driven off the land. Why is it even appropriate that a white community would adopt native people as their mascot? “

By late January, the mascot issue turned toxic. Local community newspaper The Eagle Press reported that one board member resigned, explaining she did so in the interest of preserving her mental health as well as her physical health and safety. The paper said she offered no further comment.

During its regular meeting tonight, the district's Board of Education is expected to vote to retire the “Indian.”

Kane says such action is not written in stone.

"It's on the agenda that they are going to address the process of retiring the mascot, which would imply that they've already made that decision, which they certainly haven't. So it's a little unclear. I know, right now that if a board vote were to take place, it would probably cut along lines of three against keeping it and one for keeping it. And I know that the board and the superintendent and the administration is concerned about the tensions that are growing within the community of Cambridge. And I think they're trying to check as many boxes, so they can at least demonstrate that, look, they've heard both sides, and they've evaluated the information. And this is their decision based on the information that was available. But there's a lot of people complaining that there should be a public referendum."

CCS Superintendent Doug Silvernell says the district didn't take any surveys or polls to try to gauge sentiment. He notes there are those for keeping the mascot, those against, and "a group in the middle who's just kind of waiting to see what happens."

"Right now the issues in the board's hands and they have they've been listening for several months to both sides of the argument. They'll, the board themselves will decide what direction to take.”

Dave Lucas: “Has anyone ever asked the students themselves what they think about the issue? Have there been any polls in class or surveys or anything?”

Silvernell: “No, we, but we have had a few students email in regards to it on both sides. A handful."

2010 graduate Gordon McQuerrey says logical and ethical arguments are in play.

"As to the question whether the mascot is fulfilling its most basic function, to unify us behind something that we all feel represented by. No matter where you stand on it, you can't deny that it's been dividing this community for decades, has long outlived its purpose."

The board meets at 7 in the Elementary Gym at 24 South Park Street in Cambridge. Silvernell hopes participants will exercise restraint.

"What I would, I would really hope for, is that people think long and hard about the model we're setting for our children and keep it at a civil discourse."

Silvernell says the meeting will be streamed online and asks anyone who attends in person to social distance and wear a mask.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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