NYSED Commissioner Richard Mills directive regarding mascots - April 5, 2001

Commissioner Mills sends directive regarding Native American names & mascots: what does it mean?

On April 5, 2001, New York State Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills sent all school board presidents and superintendents of public schools a memo regarding his most recent directive on public school use of Native American names, symbols and mascots. Mills issued the letter one day before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted 5-2 to issue a statement calling for an end to Indian team names and mascots at non-Indian schools, colleges and universities.

This latest memo on the subject explains the process the commissioner has used to investigate and more fully understand this issue. It also details his conclusions, reasoning and findings, as well as the argument presented to him by those representing Indigenous People.

To summarize, he writes: “After careful thought and consideration, I have concluded that the use of Native American symbols or depictions as mascots can become a barrier to building a safe and nurturing school community and improving academic achievement for all students. I ask superintendents and school boards to lead their communities to a new understanding of this matter. I ask boards to end the use of Native American mascots as soon as practical. Some communities have thought about this and are ready to act. Others have already acted and I commend them. Yet, in others, more reflection and listening are needed, and so I ask that these discussions begin now. I believe that local leaders can find the right way to inquire into this matter and resolve it locally. Next year I will formally evaluate the progress on this issue.”

Those class representatives who meet regularly with officers of the West Irondequoit Alumni Association (WIAA) discussed this issue more than a year ago as it pertains to West Irondequoit. The consensus of opinion at that time was not to make any changes.

The media continues to actively monitor the situation locally. Another area district recently went through a highly publicized process which resulted in retiring their “Chiefs” for an as yet undetermined new mascot/name.

 In addition to the sentimental attachment to these names and symbols, there is a cost implication in replacing uniforms, stationery, signs, inlaid gym floors and the like.  NYS School Boards’ (NYSSBA) Executive Director Timothy G. Klem recently wrote in his organization’s newsletter, “The cost of new uniforms or a gym floor can be significant, but that’s no excuse for retaining a symbol that rationally might be viewed as offensive...I would advise districts to take a hard, honest look at the issue if they have not already. I think they should weigh evidence from every quarter, but I don’t think they need outsiders ¾ activists, the education commissioner or NYSSBA ¾ to dictate what is the decent thing to do.”

There is clearly historic attachment to the name “Indians,” which has been and is a source of pride for IHS students. There seems to be a certain amount of  “rationale” to having a mascot that reflects our Native American name, Irondequoit. No matter what a person’s opinion is about how to respond to this issue, it seems unanimous that the intent of the name has only been honorable and respectful. But, as you can learn from the plethora of material currently available on the Internet pertaining to this topic, it is also clear that it is a complex issue with many more aspects to be considered than past practice and intent.

Should you wish to view a video that will be shared with the West Irondequoit school board and those who take part in making the decision for West Irondequoit, you can go to this web site:

http://www.newday.com/films/InWhoseHonor.html

PULLED QUOTE: “...as you can learn from the plethora of material currently available on the Internet pertaining to this topic, it is a complex issue with many more aspects to be considered than past practice and intent.”

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