By Cameron Hurst | Jun 30, 2020 | Reprinted from the Post-Journal
The conversation surrounding the longtime name of Jamestown High School’s mascot has once again caught the attention of the Seneca Nation of Indians leader.
Rickey L. Armstrong Sr., in his second stint as the nation’s president, issued another written statement to The Post-Journal in response to the creation of a counter petition that began circulating last week, pushing back against a movement to change the name of the “Red Raider.” As of Monday afternoon, 1,100 people had virtually signed the Change.org petition, “Keep the Red Raider name the same!”
“We understand that people feel passionately about how they identify with their school,” Armstrong said. “However, I believe that many of those same people would not want to purposely offend an entire population of people, any more than they would want to have their own heritage degraded.”
In his statement Armstrong re-emphasized the nation’s willingness to partner with the community.
“As I’ve said before, the path forward begins with dialogue, respect and understanding,” he added. “The Seneca Nation is open to participating in that important dialogue with any and every community that is willing to have an open mind.”
The statement from Armstrong comes nearly two weeks after initially supporting a movement to change the mascot name started by local organizer Autumn Echo that was borne out of conversations with friends who had expressed concerns with the name that spread into discussions with the Jamestown Justice Coalition.
In his initial statement, he said, “Seneca and Native American culture are reflected in the names of countless streets, towns and locations throughout Western New York. Unfortunately, we also see the continued use of names and imagery, particularly in athletics programs, that degrade, mock, and offend Native traditions, Native culture, and Native people. The time for change has long since arrived, and the call should be heeded.”
Echo’s Change.org petition, “Remove racist name & imagery from Jamestown Public Schools athletic teams” had reached over 830 virtual signatures, while physical signatures were collected at the coalition’s final “Justice June” rally on Sunday at Dow Park.
“We caught some attention from alumni of JHS who are very passionate about their school pride, which is fine,” Echo told the crowd on Sunday. “It is fine to have pride in your school and your accomplishments. But, it is not OK for your school pride to be more important than respecting different races and cultures ever.”
Melissa Paterniti, a 1993 graduate who organized the counter petition, disagrees, telling The Post-Journal that the school’s nickname has never meant to degrade any person or culture.
“When I think of Jamestown ‘Red Raiders,’ I think of pride, integrity and strength and hard work,” she said.
“The word ‘Pride’ goes in the sentence. When you look at a Jamestown Red Raider football player, what does it say on their jersey? ‘Raider Pride.’”
Dispute over the “Red Raider” name is not new: former state Education Commissioner Richard Mills had urged school board presidents and superintendents to change their school’s mascot and nickname if it uses Native American symbols, according to an April 6, 2001, article that ran in The Post-Journal.
The district began to phase out a Native American character portrayal beginning in 2012 that, according to research by the Fenton History Center, began appearing in JHS yearbooks in 1981. By 2015, all district athletic teams began using a capital ‘J’ with a feather at the direction of former Superintendent Tim Mains.
Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Bret Apthorpe, whose retirement is effective today, previously stressed the need for a dialogue in a June 19 story in The Post-Journal.
“For me, it has to be part of a much larger conversation on this topic,” he said. “I really do appreciate the awareness … To me, people have opened their eyes and ears and they want to participate a part of that conversation that we need to have as a community.”
A similar dispute over the same mascot name and similar imagery is also going on in Bellefonte, Pa., according to The Lock Haven Express. Lawn signs supporting the name staying the same began appearing on residents’ property last week.
According to MascotDB, an online mascot database, there are 488 schools in the country that use the name “Raiders,” not including the 99 who use the nickname “Red Raiders.”