Schools, colleges and professional sports teams across the country have been transitioning away from using offensive nicknames and mascots based on racial identity. A graduate of a Washington County school is leading the call for his alma mater to do the same.
John Kane is a Native American activist who attended Cambridge Central School from the third grade until he graduated from high school in 1978.
He says it’s time for the school district to retire its nickname and mascot: the Indians.
"We not only live in charged times now, because of the death of George Floyd and, and so much of this, you know the social justice calls and that kind of stuff, racial equity calls. But many of us have been at this for a long time we've been, we've been trying to get the Washington football, NFL football team to change its name for decades. And in this time, we actually have seen that happened. And this is set against a football team owner who basically said he would never change the name, 'you could put that in caps' is what he said. And, and of course, he you know, he ceded to the pressure, the pressure that came from financial interests, not necessarily because of social justice causes is early, although we could argue that financial interests were responding to social justice calls."
Kane says during his time at Cambridge Central he was never bullied, abused or traumatized in any real way by having his culture or ancestry mocked by the school using a native reference or image for its mascot.
"Look, I did have that experience growing up in a school where you know, where you do get called 'Chief', or, you know, or some native reference and that kind of stuff. And it wasn't always meant out of hate. I'm 60 years old, and I still remember the days I remember, your close friends of mine, taking the liberty to make some comments that were far more racist than being called Pocahontas. And again, it's kind of like the good old boys just, you know, having fun with each other, you know, but, but you still remember it."
According to Kane there are about 2000 schools left nationwide that have mascots referencing Native Americans. He says his personal feelings and experiences from Cambridge are not why he is asking for the name change. He adds the bottom line is that schools, colleges and even pro sports teams using a race-based name or image for their name and “brand” are simply wrong.
Kane will make the trip from his home in western New York to address the Cambridge Central School board during its scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. tonight.
"I initially sent an email to Douglas Silvernell, who is the superintendent. And that letter is where I was asking, essentially, to be heard. I was hoping to get put on the agenda, which they didn't do. But they did get back to me and told me they had been they have two comment periods during their school board meetings. And that I was walking to speak for five minutes, and then, at the end, speak for another five minutes. And I'm asking them to, to begin the process of evaluating this, this mascot."
Neither Silvernell nor school board members replied to requests for comment. Kane says he disagrees with people who claim school mascots “honor” Native Americans, and that removing these mascots is erasure. He claims Cambridge's mascot violates the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (DASA), and that it is past time for change.
"Why would any school want to pick as their mascot, a people who have been so victimized by the atrocities of the United States, whether you talk about massacres, the residential schools, the intentional spread of disease, you know, policies that have been geared towards you almost solely towards assimilation after they stopped killing us? Why would you want that? And it's because they ignore all that. And then they recreate this, this, this new invention, the Hollywood invention of the, of the noble savage, and, and, and then then you can say, you know, I like that, in fact, I'm going to call I'm going to, I'm going to claim that characteristic for myself. And that's what you have with mascots."
Here is a link to Kane's online petition to retire the “Indians” mascot for Cambridge Central School