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Cancel Culture and the Nyack Indians

by Mark T. Ruggiero

I have been following the topic of eliminating the Nyack Indian designation for many years. With today’s politically correct culture, recent events, my feeling is that this is almost a fait accompli. This is sickening to me and many, many other graduates who attended NHS and ARE proudly part of the Nyack Indian community and tradition even though we may no longer live in Nyack. We say we are Nyack Indians with the deepest respect. Our opinions are being trivialized by members of the community when in actuality our roots have been in Nyack for 70 years or more and know more about its culture and history than most of the current residents who are transplants from out of the area.

For the most part during the 30 years that I had lived in Nyack, the Indian was treated with respect. At various times there were respectful ceremonial dances during football halftime shows. The Indianettes dance team was created in the 1960s by Mr. Goldstein, the music teacher, and forward thinking for its time. You need to be aware that its original dance routines were American Indian oriented to honor the heritage of the area. Yes, during my time there were some artwork and phrases used that in today’s world would not be considered appropriate. However they were not purposely used with disrespect to the Indian culture.

The team name “Indian” was selected long ago to honor the Native American Nyack tribe or sub-tribe. It was not selected as a parody or a slur as so many of the people are trying to imply. It was selected as school names have been chosen to give a strong, bold representation of the school and its teams. The actual Nyack Indians lived for centuries in the area off of the land and then later trying to fend off the European migration to the area. I am well aware of Indian history in the area as I wrote a term paper on the “History of Rockland County” in 1976 for a Pace University writing course. FYI my research for the paper was done at the RCC, Nyack and Finkelstein libraries if you care to research this topic further.

I am not a minority and I have never had to face racism. This should never have occurred in the past and especially in today’s society, and it should not occur in Nyack. Except for a couple of events during the turbulent racially divided days of the 1960s, Nyack did not experience much of this turmoil. This was because we were diverse before we knew what that term was and is used as a catch-phrase today. I doubt Nyack has the diversity today that we experienced, but this is what strengthened the Nyack community back then. I am dismayed to hear comments that some students, especially those with Indian ancestry, were “embarrassed” to have “Nyack Indians” on their sports uniforms and other school items.

Many believe that the community and the Nyack Board of Education will cave-in to the rampant “cancel culture” in this country. I, and many others, are of the opinion that the Nyack Schools Board of Education needs to be brave like the original Nyack Indians and not allow this to happen. History is not meant to be erased. It is to be preserved so that it will be used as an educational tool for later generations. This is especially important in the Nyack area where Native Americans lived for centuries, but there is very little culture and artifacts remaining.

My strong recommendation is that the Nyack School Board do its job as elected trustees. This is an opportunity to use this issue as a teaching tool and to educate students on the impact of Native Americans in Rockland County and specifically in Nyack.

My proposal is that Nyack Schools develop a Native American curriculum that would be a mandatory section EACH YEAR for classes K-12 to teach them about Native American history and specifically Rockland County. Call it “Native American Week” or “Nyack Indian Week” and devote three hours one week per year across the entire school district. It would be included in the History or Social Studies curriculum if you even have one any longer – that is another subject. Over the course of the curriculum it would include Native American history, culture, sociology, diet, etc., etc. etc. I am sure there are many Native American speakers who would like to speak during assemblies, etc.

With an EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM, you take something that is considered a negative by those who know nothing about it in the go-along to get-along crowd, to a positive that the community can be proud of and stand behind. Don Hammond, the Mayor of Nyack, is a 1969 graduate of NHS. Work with the mayor so that the business community and other civic organizations can get on board with plans and actions of their own to embrace the educational efforts of the school district for a comprehensive school district and village-wide effort.

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As a side comment, you may have done what many other school districts around the country did to allow students out of NHS to protest a political issue. If so, you can devote three hours from a school year to this important topic.

You are probably thinking, like most politicians, that this can’t be done for whatever reason. In political terms – will this help me get re-elected to my position? Today it is being done in Montana. My sister who works for the state indicated that any person who is to be employed by the state has to complete a mandatory online course named “Indian Education for All in Montana for One MUS”. Rather than try to explain the program, below is the link which I highly recommend that you closely review. You will see that they in no way do they run away from the term Indian…they embrace it. if this educational tool is good enough for an entire state to embrace, I believe that it is good enough for Nyack.

One other change that must be done is eliminate calling the Nyack Indian a “mascot” as it trivializes the Indian name. If you were to adopt the program as I suggested in the school and the broader community, the Nyack Indian will become an icon and it should be referred to in that type of reverential term. At sporting or other events, before the students are introduced, the PA Announcer can proudly read a paragraph on why we have maintained the Nyack Indians name.

I almost had to chuckle when I read your school alert on your website regarding racism in light of recent events….but it is serious. You reference outrage about racism against black and brown people which is so very important. You did not include red people, meaning Native Americans, who also experienced terrible racism ever with their lands being swallowed up by the Europeans. This to me implies your focus on current politics and ignorance of racism at-large and again ignores the history of the local Indian community. Further, the board members’ parting comments on the Zoom meeting were telling. Comments such as “how much you learned so much about Native American and Indian history of Rockland County…” during the meeting. In my opinion you are making a decision living and working in a town with this history, but you are within an information vacuum on the subject.

THIS IS NOT A DECISION YOU NEED TO MAKE TODAY OR THIS YEAR. I do not live in Nyack so I do not know what you have specifically studied in the past on this proposed name change. If you are truly honest about this you will discuss my proposal. If you are truly “progressive,” you will look at this as an opportunity to do something different to preserve the history and tradition of the Native Americans in and around Nyack…not erase or cancel it. Is not one of the mantras of progressivism that you want to be fair to all? How does cancel culture achieve that if you erase the learnings of the past – both the bad and the good? How is that providing a quality and legitimate education to shape critical thinking within your students? Develop a comprehensive program as I suggested and use it for 3 or 5 years. If it does not meet the objectives, then you can change it or say it did not work and possibly make changes or determine the next course of action. ONCE YOU CHANGE THE NAME, IT IS GONE FOREVER AND WILL NEVER COME BACK. That I think is wrong.

In 1905, the author George Santayana wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Maintaining the Nyack Indian name is more significant than just a name change. It is an opportunity to educate the Nyack youth in the benefits of studying history and how that can shape a better world.

Ponder this question. What is the last group to on a broad scale that has tried to erase history and culture in the world? Just a short few years ago it was ISIS when they destroyed many of the Christian landmarks, sculptures and other artifacts in the Middle East. This essentially what happened to the Indians when the Europeans came to America. I am not comparing your actions to ISIS. However there are parallels. This is your opportunity to truly be progressive, inclusive and diverse by developing this educational program so that you do not ignorantly accomplish the same.

Mark T. Ruggiero is a 1970 graduate of Nyack High School and a member of the Nyack Tower Fund Committee as well as chairman of the 50th Reunion Committee for the Classes of 1970 & 71.

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