- Seneca Nation leaders have approved Salamanca, New York’s usage of Native American imagery for its school district’s “Warriors” sports teams.
- New York law bans sports teams from using Native American mascots and names absent tribal approval.
- Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said the Salamanca school district represented “the most unique of circumstances” because of its establishment on tribal land and significant Native population.
Leaders of the Seneca Indian Nation will allow a public school district located on their land to continue using its Warrior nickname and logo despite New York’s ban on schools’ use of Indigenous imagery, officials said Wednesday.
In giving approval, Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. said the Salamanca school district represented “the most unique of circumstances” because of its location on the nation’s Allegany Territory, and large percentages of Native American students and staff.
Last month, the New York Board of Regents prohibited public school districts from using Indigenous nicknames and mascots — but included an exception for districts that receive written approval from a federally recognized tribal nation in New York.
Salamanca is the only U.S. city built on land leased from a Native American reservation and about 38% of students in the public school system are members of the 8,000-member Seneca tribe.
Surveys and community forums showed broad support for keeping the existing logo, which was designed by a Seneca artist and depicts the profile of a Native American man with braided hair who is wearing the single-feather headdress specific to the Seneca Nation.
“The regulations recently approved by the New York State Board of Regents and our history of co-existence with Salamanca gave us much to consider,” Armstrong wrote in an statement emailed to The Associated Press late Tuesday. He said he took into account the collaborative relationship between the nation and school district.
“While the Nation reserves our ability to revoke this support at any time … it is our hope that the district will continue to cultivate a culture with which our students can identify, where they feel respected, and where they can excel as students and as individuals,” he wrote.
Superintendent Mark Beehler said the district was honored to receive the endorsement.
“Over the next week, the district’s Native American Curriculum Team will be releasing educational resources that will be used to teach the history and meaning of our logo and what it means to be a Warrior in Salamanca,” he said in a statement. “It is our hope these resources will educate and contribute to the eradication of stereotypes and misunderstandings that lead to bias and racism.”
New York is one of at least 20 states that have taken action or are considering action to address Native-themed mascots used by public schools, according to the National Congress of American Indians, which tracks the issue.
Nationwide, 966 districts have such mascots, according to NCAI’s database, with “Braves,” “Chiefs,” “Warriors” and “Indians” the most widely used.
A push to do away with such mascots, which are widely viewed as promoting harmful stereotypes, gained momentum with a campaign targeting the name of the NFL’s Washington team, which in 2022 renamed itself as the Commanders.