News Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Mahopac Told to Stop Using Native American Mascot

We are part of The Trust Project

The Mahopac School District is one of about 2,000 nationwide that still use a Native American as a mascot, but maybe not for much longer.

The New York State Education Department recently informed school districts that have mascots, team names or logos with Native Americans if they don’t replace it by the end of the 2022-23 school year they may be in “willful violation” of The Dignity For All Students Act.

Penalties for the violation could include the withholding of state aid and the removal of school officers.

“Schools are learning environments; students learn as much through observation of their surroundings as they do from direct instruction,” State Education Department Senior Deputy Commissioner James Baldwin wrote in a Nov. 17 memo. “In addition to their legal obligations, boards of education that continue to utilize Native American mascots must reflect upon the message their choices convey to students, parents and their communities.”

The State Education Department has opposed the use of Native American mascots for the last 20 years. In 2001, former Commissioner of Education Richard Mills issued a memorandum that stated “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.”

Many school districts heeded Mills’ directive, including Ossining, which changed its Indian mascot in 2002, and Katonah-Lewisboro, which stopped using Indian symbols as mascots in 2019. About 60 districts in New York still use a Native American mascot or logo.

“Those school districts that continue to utilize Native American team names, logos, and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must immediately come into compliance,” Baldwin stated. “Arguments that community members support the use of such imagery or that it is ‘respectful’ to Native Americans are no longer tenable.”

Daniel Ehrenpreis, a 2012 graduate of Mahopac High School, recently started a petition to Mahopac Superintendent of Schools Christine Tona and the Board of Education to rebrand the district’s nickname that has garnered nearly 8,000 signatures.

“Currently, Native Americans are still being oppressed and marginalized in society. They face the continual loss of territory due to oil industry buyouts, voter repression via unjust legislation, and high levels of violence, especially toward Native women (which is often disregarded by local authorities) among many other injustices,” Ehrenpreis stated.

“Mahopac’s “Indian” mascot is a reminder of these acts of divisiveness and marginalization, which further emphasizes our community’s inability to eliminate racism. We need to unite together to end the racial discrimination scarring our community by removing a symbol that has held us back from healing for far too long,” he added.

Another petition started by Donald Dundon that calls on Mahopac to keep its Native American mascot has only received a dozen signatures to date.

“We feel that the town has held a proud heritage to the Indians of Mahopac and better education of the other petition is needed instead of a blind misunderstood factual petition,” Dundon stated. “To change the mascot is to change the town’s identity. It is called Mahopac for those Indians and their burial places there. Understanding comes with education not a flat-out rejection.”

We'd love for you to support our work by joining as a free, partial access subscriber, or by registering as a full access member. Members get full access to all of our content, and receive a variety of bonus perks like free show tickets. Learn more here.