Oneidas offer to replace school jerseys

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COOPERSTOWN -- The Oneida Indian Nation says it would help buy replacement school sports jerseys if the Cooperstown Redskins change their nickname.

Students at the combined middle and high school in this picturesque village 150 miles north of New York City voted this month on alternative names to replace Redskins, which 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," he said.

Though best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown was also the hometown of James Fenimore Cooper, who wrote "The Last of the Mohicans."

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The top vote-getters among students for a new nickname include Deerslayers, Hawkeyes and Pathfinders -- each a nod to Cooper's works.

The Oneida Indian Nation, whose current 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 that the school would accept the Oneidas' offer.

Nationally, hundreds of high school and college teams have retired American Indian nicknames. Still, many well-known teams retain them.

Amon them, the NFL's Washington Redskins nickname continues to attract controversy. So much so, that Washington Mayor Vincent Gray avoided saying the nickname in his State of the District speech this month, referring only to "our Washington football team."

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