In an unanimous vote Monday night, the Shelter Island School Board did away with the school’s sports moniker and its mascot, the Indians, following a push this summer to retire what many said was an offensive and stereotypical use of a name and image.
The decision came after the school board heard from people on both sides of the issue. In July, former students started an online petition that was later presented to the board, and school board members reviewed the material for the past few weeks before moving on the issue at a meeting Monday.
“I’m proud of the Shelter Island School Board for their diligence in going through this process,” said Kathleen Lynch, the school board president. “It has not been an easy place to sit but we were so impressed with the turnout at our two meetings and the number of community members who came forward to share their thoughts and opinions.”
Bryan Polite, the chairman of the Shinnecock Nation Tribal Council, was pleased to learn of the decision Monday night. He had denounced the use of “Indians” as a moniker and disagreed with those who claimed it was a way to honor the Native Americans who called Shelter Island home. People on both sides of the issue told the board the image at center court was not even historically accurate of the Native Americans who lived on Shelter Island, the East End or even the East Coast.
“I am happy that the Shelter Island School Board voted to rename and reimage the Shelter Island School mascot,” Polite said. “It was great to see the energy of current and former students build the movement to have a discussion about racial imaging and how it affects the surrounding community. The conversation was long overdue and I want to thank the students who organized and brought this much needed change.”
The decision, said Emma Gallagher, a recent graduate who helped organize a protest on Shelter Island in line with the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s death, shows students “that it is okay to learn, grow, and change accordingly.”
“It is okay to know better and do better. I am excited to see how the school and community will work together to further develop curriculum, collaborate with the Shinnecock Nation, provide field trip opportunities and assemblies, etc. There are so many creative ways we can learn about native culture and history, and I am confident everyone involved will contribute to a more inclusive education,” she said late Monday night.
Gallagher was thankful to everyone for “making this happen,” but she commended another former student, Lisa Kaasik, who first took on the issue seven years ago, though the then-board declined to make the change. “I know change can be hard, but change is also necessary. This is a victory on the path to a more fair and inclusive future,” she said.
Gallagher said that she is also excited to see what the school’s new mascot will be, adding that she is partial to the Shelter Island Fish Hawks. Other suggestions have been the Islanders and the Osprey. “I hope the process of choosing a new mascot includes all who wish to be involved and truly brings Shelter Island together in rallying behind something that represents the love and pride we all have for the school,” she said.
The board will take on the next task of finding a new mascot soon. “The change will be a process and we are in no rush,” Lynch said. “It’s our plan to create a task force or committee so as to address not just how we might decide upon a new name but how we can best honor and remember the Native Americans of Shelter Island. A number of wonderful ideas were put forth at our meetings and in our correspondence so there is a lot to talk about. Right now though, our number one priority is returning our children, faculty and staff to the building safely.”