Members of two Long Island-based Native American organizations have voiced support for efforts to get the Manhasset school district to change their Indian mascot.
Sadanyah FlowingWater of the Montaukett tribe and Jeremy Dennis of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, both based on the East End, are the first Native figures to specifically comment on the conversation, which until now has been dominated by Manhasset alumni who see the mascot to be outdated and racist, and a Change.org petition with over 2,000 signatures.
Comments from FlowingWater, also a founder and executive director of the nonprofit World Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, to the Manhasset Board of Education were posted to the Instagram page of the Manhasset Justice Initiative on Aug. 30.
“There are probably two major reasons for keeping the Manhasset mascot, one is nostalgia, the other convenience,” FlowingWater is quoted as saying. “However, the truth of this matter is that there are far more reasons for this district to adopt a new mascot. The most important reason is that Native Americans find the use of these mascots insulting and in some cases harmful because of the stereotypes they project.”
FlowingWater, whose tribe the Montaukett have not yet been formally recognized by New York State, then directly asks the district to “consider removing your mascot.”
Efforts to reach FlowingWater directly for comment were unavailing.
On the night of Aug. 26, the Manhasset Justice Initiative posted a letter by Jeremy Dennis, a tribal member of the Southampton-based Shinnecock Nation as well as an artist and photographer, to their Instagram page.
“I am writing from the Shinnecock Indian Nation in Southampton, New York in support of changing the Manhasset mascot ‘The Indians’ away from Native American iconography,” Dennis wrote.
Dennis, who according to his website was raised on the nation’s reservation in Southampton, says that Native Americans have “experienced cultural and historical marginalization due to a lack of accurate representation.”
“I find the use of ‘The Indians’ as derogatory because of the stereotypical and culturally appropriated imagery used,” Dennis wrote.
He concluded by encouraging the district to use Native-led lessons rather than a mascot to educate its students.
“I can only imagine that students wearing these problematic emblems were taught that all Native Americans are now ‘vanished’ and that they now need to honor us by being ‘The Indians’ themselves,” Dennis wrote. “If Native American heritage and teachings symbolize your school’s identity so strongly, perhaps incorporating Native-led educational programs and curriculum would better suit an educational institution rather than using outdated stereotypes and racism to make your message.”
Manhasset schools Superintendent Vincent Butera said in a statement to Blank Slate Media that the district was “aware” of Dennis’ letter.
“The district is aware of the letter and will continue to meet with groups of students and alumni regarding this issue in order to gain input from a variety of stakeholders within our community,” Butera said. “We are committed to examining this issue in a thoughtful and inclusive manner as we move forward.”
Flowing Water finished her comments by saying it was “not necessary” for the district “to honor Native American culture through the use of mascots.”
“Your respect for our people and our wishes are enough,” FlowingWater said.