Shelter Island students are seeking to change the mascot of the Shelter Island School District, an image of a plains Indian in a war bonnet.
The school’s sports teams are the Shelter Island Indians.
Students have been circulating a change.org petition to the Shelter Island School Board, created by recent alum Lisa Kaasik, since July 20. As of the morning of July 27, it had garnered 1,767 signatures, while a counter-petition, to keep the name the same, had garnered 86 signatures
“Shelter Island School has maintained its offensive and insensitive mascot of the Indians for far too long. It invites the abuse of stereotypes that perpetuate the injustices inflicted on the Native people,” said Ms. Kaasik in the petition. “The image on the newly-painted gym floor is a blatant and historically inaccurate stereotype. An educational institution has the obligation to dismantle stereotypes, not encourage them and certainly not force the students to be proud of them.”
Ms. Kaasik had first brought the issue up to the school board when she was a student at the Shelter Island High School in 2013, at which time she created a Facebook page devoted to the cause that has since become newly active.
At the time, the board decided to discontinue the use of a school mascot dressed in an Indian costume, but sports uniforms, school promotional materials and the gym floor still depicted a logo of a stereotypical image of an Plains Indian in a war bonnet — tribes whose traditional dress is very different from that of the Manhanset tribe that was living on Shelter Island when colonists arrived in the 1600s.
Ms. Kaasik worked together with the student organizers of a Black Lives Matter rally on the Island in June that brought several hundred people to the school looking to make meaningful change.
Luke Lowell-Liszanckie, a basketball player at the school who graduated this year, created a counter-petition.
He said in his petition that “I believe that the Shelter Island School mascot is not racist, but far from it. If you have an issue with the name “Indians” that is understandable, however the mascot should still remain as a Native American. By having an image of a Native American represent our school and its sports teams depicts a sense of strength. I view the Native Americans as a group of strong people. The Native Americans endured truly horrible things at the hands of the British Colonist as well as by the American people. All the horrors that they endured is a testimony to their strength as a people. By having an image of a Native American represent our school I believe we are honoring the Native Americans. Letting their fighting spirit reflect our own. That image painted on the gym floor is not an inaccurate racial stereotype. It is a symbol of strength and perseverance.”
Mr. Lowell-Liszanckie said he wanted to get feedback from the Shinnecock Nation on how best to proceed.
Shinnecock Chairman of the Council of Trustees Bryan Polite quickly added his voice to the discussion.
“To be clear the Native Americans did not ask to be “honored” with a mascot,” according to a statement he gave on the initial petition to change the name. “It is clearly lost on some people that “honoring” should be recognizing historical injustices against the first people of Long Island. A comprehensive curriculum centered around the study of the pre-colonial era of Long Island would be a much more sincere way to “honor” Native Americans. Mascots that depict a stereotypical “Indian” is offensive to many in the indigenous communities.”
“I understand that a school should have traditions, but they should not be centered around a romanticized image of what people think are the ideals and culture of an entire community,” he added. “Be proud to be from Shelter Island, but know the history of the Native people and ask them before you think a romanticized mascot is the best approach to educate the youth on Native American qualities and culture.”
Ms. Kaasik’s petition asks the school board “to promptly change the mascot and eliminate the stereotypes displayed around the school and on its website. This change is long overdue, and we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. This issue extends far beyond the largely homogenous Shelter Island community and is a legacy of racism that has haunted this country from its inception. We must prove to our children that we know better, we are better, and we are always capable of learning and growing.”
The image of the Indian was longer on the school district’s website as of late July.
Organizers of the petition to change the mascot plan to present it at the school board’s Aug. 17 meeting.