FONDA — The Fonda-Fultonville Central School District is hoping to keep its nickname — the “Braves,” after reaching an agreement with a local Indigenous community’s leader, which includes plans to begin a “rebranding process” to create a new patriotic mascot.
The district, last week, announced it reached an agreement with Thomas Porter, the spiritual leader of the Mohawk Community of Kanatsiohareke, a member of the Mohawk Nation located in Fonda, to keep the “Braves” nickname and begin a process that will see Porter help the district “design a new logo that will represent the word Braves in a way that separates it from the indigenous culture and allows it to stand alone.”
“Our community embodies the word Braves and views it as a positive word that represents courage and strength in the face of adversity in ways that are not solely limited to indigenous peoples,” the agreement, signed by Porter on March 3, reads.
Porter, who also goes by Chief Sakokwenionkwas, could not be reached for comment.
In a March 10 letter addressed to the district’s Indigenous Mascot Advisory Panel, Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent Thomas Ciaccio said Porter will visit the district in the coming months to meet with students “to discuss how our district will proceed in changing our culture.”
“It is with Dr. Tom Porter’s (Chief Sakokwenionkwas) approval that we feel we are taking a positive step in changing our culture, while sharing those changes with a respected member of the Mohawk Nation,” the letter says.
Ciaccio also explains the thought-process behind keeping the Braves nickname, noting that the district will be focused on the last line of the U.S. National Anthem moving forward: “The home of the Brave.”
“In our district each individual is a Fonda-Fultonville Brave, singular as is stated in our National Anthem. The plural, Braves, is used when more than one individual is present,” the letter says. “In other words, our process will be to identify the word Brave(s) in a broad context that is not limited to any indigenous connection.”
The district first adopted the Braves nickname around 70 years ago, and at one point had a logo depicting an Indigenous person wearing a headdress. The imagery has been weaned out in recent years.
The agreement comes one month before the state’s Board of Regents is expected to adopt final regulations requiring all school district’s in the state to eliminate the use of Indigenous names, logos and mascots by the end of the 2024-25 academic year.
The state’s Education Department has long advocated for school district’s to drop the use of Indigenous imagery, but issued a mandate requiring all districts to cease using the imagery or risk losing state funding late last year, following a lawsuit involving Cambridge Central School District in Washington County.
Preliminary guidelines released earlier this year require local boards of education to adopt a resolution by the end of the current school year laying out plans to eliminate use of all Indigenous names, logos and mascots. Public schools, school buildings and school districts named after an Indigenous tribe would be allowed to keep their names under the proposed guidelines.
The proposed regulations allow districts to maintain their imagery if they have an agreement in place with a federal- or state-recognized Indigenous tribe.
But the guidelines are unclear when it comes to nicknames — a sticking point for several local school districts, including Mohonasen in Rotterdam that has the nickname “Warrior.” The district is also hoping to secure an agreement with an Indigenous nation in hopes of preserving its own nickname.
The Board of Regents has convened a special committee made up of Indigenous leaders on the issue, but has encouraged schools whose nicknames have Indigenous roots to drop the names altogether.
“It is our hope that the State Education Department and the Board of Regents will recognize this effort and permit us to continue with the use of Brave(s),” Ciaccio wrote in his letter.
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected] or by calling 518-395-3120.