In 2001, a Manhasset focus group recommended that no changes should be made to Manhasset High School’s Indian mascot. Almost 20 years later, the school district will have another decision to make on the mascot after an online petition garnered more than 3,000 signatures, and members of the Native American community denounced the mascot. Superintendent of Manhasset Schools Dr. Vincent Butera announced that the school district will have a Zoom public meeting on Thursday, Oct. 22, at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the issue.
“We are communicating a message of inclusivity and dignity for all,” Butera told the Manhasset Press. “The way to do that is to listen and then take specific steps towards that objective, as opposed to simply doing one thing and calling it a day.”
The petition, “Manhasset High School Should Change the Racist Mascot,” on change.org was started by Jo Trigg, a 2004 Manhasset graduate, and has 3,081 signatures as of publication. Trigg spoke to the Manhasset Press in August about why she started the petition, but has looked to the recently formed Manhasset Justice Initiative (MJI) to continue the fight of replacing the mascot.
“We don’t believe that a mascot should be represented by people, it’s degrading,” Emma Klainberg, a Manhasset alum and cofounder of MJI, said. “You have mascots that are animals or sometimes an inanimate object. It’s not enough to have a symbolic figurehead and put their name and say, ‘oh, the Indians we’re respecting them.’ If we really want to respect them, we need to talk about what they look like today because the image of them as the mascot is outdated. It represents this really purely stereotypical and whitewashed view about what we think Indians look like.”
MJI has around 15 to 20 members, each of whom are Manhasset students, alumni or residents. The community organization formed after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the school district’s request, MJI started a separate petition of only Manhasset-affiliated individuals, so the school district has a better idea of what the community believes should happen rather than an online petition that anyone can sign.
In the Facebook comments of the Manhasset Press’ August article “Petition To Replace Manhasset High School Mascot,” former Manhasset Press editor, current Co-President of the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce and North Shore TV host Elizabeth Johnson said, “I believe the Indian mascot represents a brave, honorable image of beauty, skill and agility. Knowing how to live off the land and be ecological friendly unlike the many spoiled children of Manhasset who knock over planters because they are bored and drop their garbage all over the place. It is a privilege to have the Manhasset Indians.”
In June, the MJI had a meeting with Butera and a member of the school board to discuss the issue of the mascot. Sadanyah Flowing Water of the Montaukett tribe and another Native American of the Navajo Nation spoke at the meeting as well.
“I asked them to seriously consider removing the mascot,” Flowing Water, also the founder and executive director of the nonprofit World Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, said. “The first time I actually saw the mascot and when I saw how similar it was to the Redskins franchise is almost an exact duplicate except for the colors.”
This past summer, the NFL’s Washington franchise change their nickname from “Redskins” to “Football Team,” with a new name to be decided at a later date. This came after years of public outcry, including its own fan base, but also pressure from sponsors and minority owners like FedEx CEO Fred Smith, to majority owner Daniel Snyder for a change in name.
The Manhasset logo is similar to the “Redskins” logo, but the school district has been trying to distance itself from that logo in recent years and it cannot be found on their website. The football team had the “Redskins” logo on their helmet in the past and an alternative version can be found on the boys basketball team’s shorts. The Manhasset crew team currently uses an alternative Indians logo that can be found on their website. Butera told the Manhasset Press that the school district is working on removing the “Redskins” logo from the sports teams and instead use the “M” with a feather logo.
Other depictions of Native Americans that can be found within the school and around Manhasset. In the lobby of the Manhasset Secondary School, you are greeted by a large Native American wooden statue. The school newspaper is called The Indian Ink and there is also the issue of Spirit Week, which has been brought up by alumni. The Town of North Hempstead, which is based in Manhasset on Plandome Road, also has a logo representing a Native American.
“We have Spirit Week at Manhasset High School and every day there would be a different theme,” Klainberg said. “Over the couple of years that I was there and even beyond that, they would have kids dress up as Cowboys and Indians.”
Butera says the school district is not looking for guidance from the state and that this will be treated as a local matter. The upcoming meeting will have representatives of the Montauckett Indian Nation, Shinnecock Indian Nation and National Congress of American Indians present to speak on the matter. A decision by the school district is expected by the end of the school year.