By Brenda Bolouvi
The Sewanhaka Central High School District prides itself on maintaining tradition and diversity among all students. However, many parents, students, and alumni believe that those values are overstepping each other with the mascot of one school in particular: the Native American or “Indian” mascot of Sewanhaka High School.
“The Sewanhaka Central High School District's diversity and welcoming nature have allowed it to stand strong in the public eye for the past 100 years. But, the 21st century is here and as time changes, people must adapt...”
The name Sewanhaka translates to “Island of Shells," which was derived from an indigenous language. This was the reason for the mascot being an "Indian." However, the mascot is deemed as outdated and racially insensitive for many signers of a petition who are lobbying for reform by calling to change the mascot. Over 1,000 signatures on the petition encouraged a board meeting to take place on the re-evaluation of this controversial mascot.
One of the students who signed the petition wrote, “There’s absolutely no excuse. They could’ve done this years ago and just like everything else, the students have to demand change.” Many other students had similar sentiments under the petition.
People may be wondering why using an “Indian” or Native American mascot is deemed offensive. For starters, according to Project Angel Island*, utilizing the word “Indian” when referring to Indigenous people is disrespectful seeing that it was used out of ignorance during the genocide. When referring to Native Americans, it is acceptable to use the terms Indigenous, Native Americans, or First Nations.
Source by Saanvi Mirchandani
Sewanhaka's Native American mascot has been around for the longest time, but many are ready for a change.
Students also expressed their feelings about a traditional headdress being used as a costume for school spirit events. The petition stated that having students “dress up in feathers and different outfits that belong to Natives is disrespectful.” They felt as if it was almost making a mockery out of Native American culture when there was little to no education on the meaning behind them.
Some students from both Sewanhaka High School and New Hyde Park Memorial High School have their own opinions on the issue.
“Sewanhaka is a pretty old school. But do I think that with the current political and racial climate, it could and does come across as offensive? I think it should. It’s the right thing to do and maybe then, more people would be comfortable repping our school spirit,” said Sewanhaka High School sophomore Daniela Melara.
“Although it is a long-standing tradition, schools need to be able to adapt to the new standards and understand why students are unhappy with the mascot,” said New Hyde Park Memorial junior Hannah Kim.
Although the mascot does not directly represent New Hyde Park Memorial, it is everyone's responsibility to speak out when they see something concerning.
The Sewanhaka Central High School District's diversity and welcoming nature have allowed it to stand strong in the public eye for the past 100 years. But the 21st century is here and as time changes, people must adapt. Now it is up to the very community it serves. Should those in charge go forward with the changing of a decades-old mascot, or keep in line with tradition?
*Project Angel Island is an organization started by students from Jericho High School. They strive to educate youth about societal issues and empower minorities through colorful infographics and blog posts. If you would like to support them, check out their Instagram page, @projectangelisland, and their Etsy, where they donate the proceeds from their handmade jewelry and sticker shop to charity.