LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — People from all walks of life gathered at Lancaster High School Tuesday evening to debate what the name “Redskin” means to them.
Many current and former students feel strongly about keeping the name of their mascot. It represents a sense of pride and honor, not disrespect to Native Americans, they say.
“I just think it’s important to keep the name. We have never used it as a derogatory thing and I think that we should keep it so the kids have some pride in their school,” Jennifer Vacanti, a Lancaster alumnus, said.
“I love the word Redskins because I play for the Lancaster Redskin football team,” one football player explained. “It’s a term of pride, honor and respect; not just toward football but for everyone else, like the marching band.”
Not everyone agrees. Those who oppose the school continuing to use the term “Redskins” say the term is disrespectful and racist.
“The current dictionary of American English defines the ‘r-word’ as offensive, disparaging, insulting, and a derogatory racial slur,” Al Parker, of the Tonawanda Seneca Nation, told the crowd who had gathered at Lancaster High School.
Michael Martin, Executive Director of Native American Community doesn’t think that changing the name will have much negative impact. “I don’t think that if you change the name, I don’t think anyone will cheer any less for their kids, be any less proud of the plays on the field, or any less proud of their school or community,” Martin said.
The President of the Seneca Nation, Maruice John Sr., took a strong stance on the matter writing and releasing a letter to the public Tuesday. The letter was also sent to President Barack Obama, Governor Andrew Cuomo and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Let’s be clear — the term ‘redskin’ is a racial slur,” John wrote in the letter. “I strongly disagree with those who argue that it is a term of honor and respect. It has no place in today’s society.”
John said using the term fuels an incorrect habit of racial stereotyping, and teams like Lancaster and the Washington Redskins should change their names. Although he didn’t specifically mention a lawsuit, John said it was possible that “litigation can better drive this point.”
Those on both sides of the issue sat at fourteen tables at Lancaster High School Tuesday night to discuss those points of argument. All of the discussions were recorded and will be given to the Lancaster Board of Education for review. The board president said the vote on the matter won’t come any time soon; Tuesday’s gathering was simply part of the educational process.