CAMBRIDGE — The split between people who support and oppose Cambridge Central School’s Indian nickname and emblem remained apparent Thursday evening, as the school board held its first in-person meeting since December.
Due to COVID-19 fears, the board had been meeting on an online platform with no opportunity for public comment since January.
Between 70 and 80 people attended, with 28 addressing the board, some more than once. Some supporters, seated toward the front of the auditorium, wore orange “Save Our Mascot” T-shirts or other Cambridge Indian attire. Public statements took about 2½ hours of a meeting that ultimately ran 3½ hours.
Opinions about the mascot ran roughly three for and two against, reflecting the board’s vote to keep the nickname and review the imagery.
Several people said that they or their family members had Native ancestry and that all of them were happy to be called “Indians.” Local business person Kathleen Ward said she was 44% Native American.
“To take away the mascot and name is ridiculous,” she said.
She blamed the controversy on “people who came in from outside and want to change us. It’s not going to happen. All of the people represented by the mascot are Indians and proud of it.”
One former football player at CCS said a Native American he met at college was offended by his Indian memorabilia. The CCS graduate explained to that person how the Indian symbolized the Cambridge team’s culture of bravery and respect and changed that person’s mind.
“If someone isn’t offended by something, does that mean it’s not racist?” countered resident Nina Wugmeister.
Those who wanted to change the mascot pointed out that a number of Native American groups are on record as opposing Native mascots for non-native groups or schools.
Alex Dery Snider read a statement from the National Congress of American Indians, declaring that the NCAI has been against Native mascots for more than 50 years and the Cambridge Indians did not have the formal approval of any Native nation.
Madeline Flynn questioned why Cambridge couldn’t be the Indians if a team called the Boston Celtics had Black players.
“Shouldn’t we be woke about that too?” she asked.
Even if other schools and sports teams are dropping Native-themed names and images, “why should we have to follow a trend just because it’s a trend?”
Scott Carrino said the harms that Native American mascots do to Native American children and others are “undeniable. When someone tells you they are harmed by your actions, the decent thing to do is to change what you’re doing.”
Chris Record accused the board of “hiding behind ‘plandemic’ rules” to avoid facing the public. He said the community mediation process the school recently sponsored was manipulated by people who came in with a secret agenda and created a false consensus.
Record also brought up the 1st Amendment and 2nd Amendment, critical race theory, the 1619 Project, mask mandates for school children and the school’s recently adopted policy opening single-occupancy restrooms to all genders.
He questioned why the school district did not require voters to show ID and called for an audit of the May 18 results because the tabulating machines could have been hacked, although pro-mascot candidates Dillon Honyoust and David Shay Price won resoundingly.
Matthew Owen said financier George Soros was behind the national drive to remove Native-themed mascots. Wugmeister said bringing up Soros was “an anti-Semitic dog whistle,” prompting shouts from the audience.
Some students and adults mourned the potential loss of their athletic mascot.
“(Late football coach) Ken Baker created a football program based on respect and integrity,” said John Townsend. “None of that matters anymore. Now we’re the town that can’t figure out how to deal with this issue.”
Conversely, Class of 2021 Valedictorian Fiona Mooney said some students wouldn’t participate in sports because the Indian made them uncomfortable.
“The mascot no longer brings kids together,” she said.
A few people attacked former school board President Neil Gifford for discarding a potential compromise at the board’s June 17 meeting. (Gifford was replaced as president by board member Jessica Ziehm in a unanimous vote during the board’s reorganizational meeting earlier in the evening.)
Cambridge village resident Lois Ann Jahne brought a bag of Paleo Indian stone tools, 4,000 to 5,000 years old, that had been found in her yard.
“By saying you are the Indians, you are canceling the culture of the people who led to the Haudenosaunee,” she said, using the Native name for the Iroquois Nation. “They were here before people were named Indians.”
Several people accused outside influences and media of inciting the uproar. Others called for returning the school’s focus to students and their successes, or simply lamented the divisions in the community.
“I’m sorry that anyone has been hurt by a school named for Indians,” said Danielle Severson. “Pride speaks for itself. I hope we can just get over this.”
In a related vote, the board ordered school Superintendent Douglas Silvernell to create a plan to improve how the school teaches Native American history and culture, including “such culture (that) has and continues to exist in the region of the school district.” That passed unanimously with no debate and no public comment.