Native American group reacts to mascot change
CRANBERRY TWP — Seneca Valley School District's retirement of its Native American-themed imagery associated with the Raiders name was commendable, the National Congress of American Indians said.
But, the NCAI added, it's a first step.
“For those schools currently undergoing a rebrand, Seneca Valley included, an important question remains: What else are they committed to doing to fully sever their school mascots from their long-held associations with Native people — to put an end to the harms those mascots have long caused Native people?” an NCAI statement said.
The congress said Seneca Valley's move last week to retire the imagery is “an important and necessary first step toward creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment that respects all students and cultures.”
So, what other steps are there for the district?
The NCAI said the actions and habits associated with the Native American-related mascot and imagery should be the next focus, with some emphasis on the district's educational offerings about American Indians' present culture and history.
“Typically, it is not enough that the mascot imagery changes,” the congress' statement said. “Changes also need to be made to fan rituals and attire, community behavior and attitudes, and, most importantly, the extent and accuracy of the school's curriculum about Tribal Nations and their citizens.
“NCAI is committed to working with Seneca Valley in this endeavor.”
School director Fred Peterson said at the June 14 board meeting that he recognizes the retirement of the Native-related imagery as one small step in the district's and nation's reckoning with its past.
“I was tempted today to vote against the resolution (to retire the mascot and imagery) because I did not think it went far enough to address the concerns raised by Indigenous peoples,” he said. “I will vote to adopt in hopes that this is only the first step. We have many promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep.”
The NCAI did not give an opinion as to whether the district should have retired the Raider name, but noted “most schools that have acted on this issue opt to retire both their existing mascot names and their associated imagery.”
“However, several schools with 'Warriors' or 'Raiders' mascots have chosen to retain their names while totally rebranding their mascot imagery,” NCAI stated.
In Seneca Valley, school board president Eric DiTullio said the “Raider” name has taken on a special meaning to students, alumni and community members, and as such the district opted not to retire the name.
“In my opinion, we are obligated to eliminate this imagery and, while I am disappointed, at the end of the day a rendering of a Native American is not what defines this district,” DiTullio said at the June 14 board meeting. “The 'Raider' name, however, does, and I am in favor of keeping the 'Raider' name. ... The 'Raider' name has been one associated not originally or solely with Native Americans.”
The group of students who presented their research on the topic to the school board in April said they have similar thoughts on the district's step as the NCAI, wrote rising seniors Vivian Palmer and Clair McCafferty, two members of the group, in an email.
“While we advocated for both the retirement of both the Raider mascot and name, we are excited that our school board is taking an important step,” Palmer and McCafferty said.
The students said the feedback they've received from the community has been “very mixed,” with some “intensely critical” online comments, but largely positive and supportive feedback in person.
“Through our process, we have been sure to focus on the positive comments, allowing our presentation to speak for us instead of feeling the need to defend our research in the comments section,” they said.
And as the students said they hope this is merely a first step for the district, their presentation to the school board is also only their first step.
“This project has inspired us to seek more Indigenous advocacy in our school, ensuring that students are educated on Native American history as well as the plight that Indigenous individuals face today,” they said. “We hope to uplift the voices of all underrepresented groups at Seneca Valley, including those of Indigenous peoples. We also hope to become an example to other schools working toward the same goal, showing that this change is tangible.”