Susquehannock High's mascot: Nearly 4,000 signed petition, but no one spoke up at meeting

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
Susquehannock logo on a banner at Susquehannock High School Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Last year, nearly 4,000 people signed a petition to keep Susquehannock High School's mascot. Last night, no one spoke up when Native Americans argued that the image is racist.

The Southern York County school board held a special meeting Thursday night to hear from officials with the National Congress of American Indians, who shared research about the harmful impacts of Native American mascots.

The board is expected to vote April 15 on whether to change the Susquehannock High School mascot.

Most board members supported the representatives' research, and board President Robert Schefter expressed frustration at the lack of public participation during the meeting. No one signed up for public comment at the meeting, even though last year a petition to keep Susquehannock High School's mascot amassed more than 3,800 signatures. 

Schefter said the people who are against changing the mascot had an opportunity to hear from experts and educate themselves on an issue they're interested in.

He said he expects a lot of public comment at the April meeting but warned that if the commenters do not watch the special meeting or review the research presented to the board, their opinions will not hold as much weight. 

Rebranding: Since the 1970s, roughly two-thirds of the Native American mascots representing schools or professional sports across the U.S. have been retired, Ian Record, NCAI's vice president of tribal governance and special projects, told the board.

However, today there are still more than 1,900 U.S. schools with Native-themed mascots, he said.

Nationwide criticism of Native American mascots erupted last summer, leading Washington, D.C.'s NFL team to rebrand.

Schefter said a letter from a student brought the issue to the board's attention. Board members were silent on the subject for months after asking the district's diversity committee to conduct research, but officials resumed the conversation earlier this month. 

More:Susquehannock High's use of Warrior mascot sent to diversity committee

More:Southern York County to decide on Susquehannock High School mascot in April

Board members confirmed that the district was only considering changing the mascot, not altering Susquehannock High School's name or the term "warriors" in the district's brand. Record previously told district officials that the term "warrior" is not considered offensive unless it is associated with Native American imagery.

Record said there is no evidence of Native American imagery in mascots yielding any positive outcomes. When he looks at Susquehannock High School's mascot, he said, he feels it perpetuates stereotypical imagery of Native Americans, depicting them as "war-like" and not representative of the diverse group of modern Native Americans. 

Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians, said much of the debate surrounding Native American mascots is "blatantly racist." He pointed out that Native Americans are the only race represented in mascot form, though many argue the mascots are used to honor Native Americans.

"Spoiler alert: It is not an honor," Payment said. 

Payment and Yawna Allen, the NCAI director of civic engagement and special projects, said Native American mascots are harmful to all students, not just those with Native American heritage. Record said that several school officials who have worked with the organization have said their mascots are the only exposure their students have to Native American culture at school, which he said scares him.