One of Central New York’s most famous Native American athletes urged Fulton’s Board of Education to talk to Onondaga Nation members before approving a new athletics logo meant to honor them.
Moments later, the board approved the logo.
Travis Cook of Fulton, a Mohawk tribal member who played for SUNY Oswego and professionally for two teams, asked the board why no Onondaga Nation member was consulted.
“If you’re going to use a depiction of our people, I think you owe them to engage them in conversation. You need to ask them if it’s right or wrong,” he said.
The use of Native American imagery in sports logos and mascots remains a controversial topic.
Native American critics say the logos emphasize either stereotypically savage behavior or the color of their skin.
Cook noted that Syracuse University stopped using its Saltine Warrior mascot, and St. John’s University and Central Square school district both changed Native American related nicknames.
Some schools across New York changed nicknames and mascots after the state Education Department pressured them to consider the issue.Â Other districts, including Weedsport and Fulton, did not change at the time.
Board members could not recall whether an Onondaga member was part of the committee that worked for months on the logo and mascot issue.Â They said at least two members were Native Americans.
The Fulton teacher who designed the new logo, Rob Lescarbeau, is a descendant of the Cree tribe of Canada.Â He said he designed the logo to show a proud, strong and peaceful Onondaga, based on research.
Superintendent of Schools Bill Lynch explained to Cook that the logo change was only part of a broader effort.Â He said the district will soon include enhanced lessons about the role of the Onondagas and the Iroquois Confederacy.Â He said the lessons would be “respectful”.
He also said the district would work to ensure that students would not use offensive depictions of Native Americans on t-shirts, after discussing a t-shirt worn by some students last year to an event that depicted a cartoonish Native American brandishing a hatchet.
But Cook returned to his central point: “There is a way to do it [create a logo that honors the Onondaga] and do it respectfully,” he said. “But when you make decisions without their permission, it’s not received well.Â I think you need to hear it from the people.”
He added, “Go there. Seek their advice and counsel and do it right.”
Board members did not address Cook’s criticisms directly.Â Board president Robbin Griffin instead asked whether the logo should be approved if the curriculum changes were not approved.
In the end, the logo change was approved unanimously.
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