Alex J. Weidenhof
The Butler Eagle

Seneca Valley School District's move June 14 to retire its Native mascot and imagery, while trending away from the district's nearly 50-year-old imagery, is part of a larger national trend for school districts.

Although more than 1,000 school districts continue to use Native logos, imagery or nicknames, according to the National Conference of American Indians, 70 districts in the United States retired such “themed” school mascots. As of June 8, the NCAI states, 12 additional districts have retired their American Indian-themed imagery.

Two of those dozen districts were in Pennsylvania, according to NCAI — Susquehannock Township School District in Dauphin County and Southern York County School District. In one instance, the district took similar steps to Seneca Valley's, retiring its mascot and imagery, but retaining its branding, and received similar feedback from students, alumni and other stakeholders.

Southern York County

The Southern York County schools brand themselves as “Susquehannock” and the sports teams are called the “Warriors.” And until mid-April, the district used a depiction of a Native American man as its mascot and logo.

On April 15, the district retired its American Indian logo after forming a committee of students, staff, parents and school directors. That committee's report, which was part of the basis on which the school board retired the logo, included feedback from Indigenous peoples and district stakeholders.

Groups representing Indigenous peoples, the report found, are vehemently against the use of mascots, logos or imagery depicting Native Americans. It cited a communication from a Lenape Nation member who said he feels “too often mascots/logos contain harmful misrepresentations of our people or culture; however, even if they do not, they tend to root us in the past, solidifying us as an historical exhibit, rather than a living people.”

That Lenape Nation member's feelings are borne out by communications cited in the report. One current student called the district's mascot “an inaccurate depiction of a functioning minority, chalking them up to an artifact, rather than an active culture.” An alumnus said “to think we know what this artwork means to an affected population who can't tell us is ludicrous.”

Yet, the report found, the NCAI finds names like the district's “Warriors” not offensive when not associated with Native American imagery, and names such as “Susquehannock” are not targeted for retirement as many roads and towns, for instance, are named after Native American tribes.

One parent and teacher echoed the sentiment of Seneca Valley board president Eric DiTullio, saying, “the strength, heart and local pride is woven through everything we do” — not simply the mascot.

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