When the Shelter Island School Board of Education met in a special session on Monday, August 31, and voted unanimously to retire the name of Indians for its teams, several Islanders were heard on the issue.
Bianca Evangelista, Class of 2018, spoke of feeling uncomfortable when college friends, some of whom are Indians, learned about her high school’s mascot. “We don’t want anyone to be ashamed of the mascot they cheer for,” she said. “It may have been acceptable at one time, but it is now legitimately offensive, and plainly outdated.”
Sherri Cavasini spoke in favor of retaining the name, describing what the name meant to her when she was in high school. “I am not a native Indian. I represented the Indians with pride and respect,” she said. “If it’s time for change that will be up to all of you.”
Bianca Collins, a tribal member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, spoke in favor of dropping the name and image, which she described as an insulting and inaccurate depiction.
The newest member of the School Board, Karina Montalvo, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic, pointed out that the Dominican people don’t have the privilege to hear the opinions of their native Tainos, because they are all gone.
“The fact that here we have the privilege to listen [to our Native people] and they are feeling hurt and not honored at all, it’s something that we need to take into consideration.”
Cliff Clark, who attended 1st grade through 12th grade at the school, spoke of over six decades of the school’s history with mascots. “I played sports when we were the Islanders and coached when we were the Indians in the 70s,” he said. “Both sides are right. The people who say it is offensive, are right. The people who played and were proud, they are right too … Native American people are speaking. If it is offensive, it is not right.”
Board of Education member Dawn Hedberg’s research provided some more background on the question. She found that the board had considered dropping the name Indians in 2003 although it didn’t vote on it. Seven years ago, when a student-led movement pressed the issue, the board voted to keep the name, but to refer to it as an “icon” instead of a “mascot.”
School Board President Kathleen Lynch, who said she was present for that vote, said that then-board president Thomas Graffagnino recently told her that although he was not in favor of changing the name the last time it was discussed, he now felt the time had come.
When everyone had been heard, Ms. Lynch called for a motion to retire the use of the name Indian as icon/mascot for the Shelter Island Free School District. It was seconded and passed.