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February 21, 2013

Oneidas offer uniforms if Cooperstown changes nickname

The Oneida Indians say they would help buy replacement school sports jerseys if the Cooperstown Redskins change their nickname.

Students of the combined middle and high school voted this month on names to replace the Redskins nickname that goes back to the 1920s. The vote was prompted by students who found the nickname offensive to American Indians.

“You have announced a standard that recognizes that mascots which are known to dehumanize and disrespect any race of mankind have no place in our schools, or our great country,” Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter wrote to Cooperstown Central School students. “We understand that your courageous decision also comes with a financial consequence and, unfortunately, potential backlash from those who somehow claim that ethnic stereotyping is a victimless crime.”

Cooperstown is best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, but it was also the hometown of James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote “The Last of the Mohicans.” The top vote-getters among students for a new nickname include Deerslayers, Hawkeyes and Pathfinders — each name a nod to Cooper’s works.

The Oneida Indian Nation, whose territory is about 50 miles northwest of Cooperstown, would be honored to help buy the district new athletic jerseys, Halbritter said. He added that the tribe also would help set up a fund for other schools that get rid of ethnically insensitive mascots.

The local school board is seeking input from the community before it makes a final decision. District Superintendent C.J. Hebert said a name change would cost $5,000 to $10,000, and they would take the Oneidas up on their offer.

Hundreds of high school and college teams nationwide have retired Native American nicknames, though many student and professional teams retain them. The NFL’s Washington Redskins nickname continues to attract controversy. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray specifically avoided saying the nickname in his State of the District speech this month, referring only to “our Washington football team.”

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