Wantagh Warrior Mascot Change: Why It’s Necessary

Michelle Smith, Sports Editor

This November, the New York State Department of Education ordered schools to stop using Native American mascots, nicknames, and logos by the end of the 2022-23 school year or risk losing state aid. Some school districts voluntarily dropped the Native depictions, but many are reluctant and have even seen community members signing petitions and staging protests to keep their mascots. Those like me, in favor of the bill, are glad to see a change as this has been a long time coming after years of pleas from Native tribes and Indigenous peoples in New York.

For centuries, Native American lands have been stolen from the tribes living on them and their culture has been appropriated or completely overlooked. Deputy Education Commissioner James Baldwin said, “Those school districts that continue to utilize Native American team names, logos, and/or imagery without current approval from a recognized tribe must immediately come into compliance.” Immediately, those opposed to the bill took to social media and showed their outrage at a bill that truly has no negative effect on them and will benefit the Indigenous people who are actually affected by the use of their names and likeness to contribute to stereotypes. The same people against the bill claim the depictions of natives are meant to “respect” and “honor” the tribes despite years of protests and requests made by Indigenous groups to cease the use of such monikers as they are seen as disrespectful and offensive to the indigenous people portrayed by the logos and mascots. Seneca Nation of Indians President Ricky Armstrong, Sr. said, “The decision handed down by the state Education Department is a positive step whose time has long since come. Names and imagery that mock, degrade and devalue Native heritage, culture, and people have no place in our society. The historic decimation of Native people should not be celebrated in any fashion or used as a community rallying cry, especially in the realm of education… the fact remains that many team names and images further longstanding anti-Native biases.”

Along with the intentions of “honoring” and “respecting” the Native Americans from their areas and communities, community members argue that many schools with Native American names, mascots, and logos are built on or near land that used to belong to natives, an argument that those in favor of the bill have found laughable as the opposition is practically saying that some of the schools should get to keep their names because the buildings could have been built on stolen Native land. Sources say that some schools may have the option to keep their names and change just their logo and mascot if the name is not directly linked to a Native tribe. Wantagh High School and Middle School have used the name “Wantagh Warriors” for decades as Wantagh was a native land settled by the Montauk native tribe and is named after Chief Wantagh. Wantagh community members are largely against the change of the mascot going as far as starting petitions and changing their social media presence to include pictures of the logo and long text posts being copied and pasted to be re-shared on platforms like Facebook strongly opposing the change. Again, these posts cite intentions of honor and respect to be brought to the Montauk tribe and descendants of Chief Wantagh by the Wantagh Warrior mascot. One Wantagh junior in favor of the change said, “the change is necessary to adapt to modern times. If something becomes problematic, it is respectful to evaluate the issue and give it proper consideration.” 

The fact of the matter is, the use of Native depictions is harmful and offensive and the necessary change is coming later than it ever should have, but at least it’s getting done. For those opposed to the bill, it is imperative to remember that the change will do good for those affected by the use of Native monikers and although it is rumored that the change can be avoided by certain means, it should be seriously considered by the affected schools that they change their names and mascots anyway in an effort to avoid any further conflict.