On the eve of a community forum on whether the Lancaster School District should keep or drop the controversial Redskins mascot, a pro-Redskins group flew two Native Americans to Buffalo to help their cause.
The message: That the Redskins nickname is a tribute to Native Americans and a source of pride, and should be kept in place at Lancaster Central High School, as it has been for nearly 70 years.
“I came out here on my own free will. I’m going to come out and save the Redskins,” said Joe L. Milk, 33, an Ogala Sioux and gaming inspector at a casino in Martin, S.D., and who lives on his tribe’s reservation in the same town. “There’s plenty of Native Americans who don’t find it racist at all ... I want to help Lancaster save their name and keep the tradition going.”
An anonymous donor who is a Lancaster graduate paid for Milk’s flight, hotel and meals, according to a pro-Redskins committee member. At the Buffalo Niagara International Airport on Monday afternoon, Milk wore a Washington Redskins football team knit cap with a Native American emblem and donned a “Once a Redskin, Always a Redskin” T-shirt handed to him by the Lancaster pro-Redskins group late Monday.
“I don’t find it offensive. It’s the right word to use,” Milk said.
Also flown here at the expense of the donor was Mark One Wolf Yancey of Connecticut, who is the administrator of an online group called Native American Redskins Fans and who has been featured in a video made by lobbyists for the NFL’s Washington Redskins team.
Milk said that Yancey contacted him about the Lancaster issue.
Tuesday night at 7 p.m., school leaders are hosting a community forum at the high school to hear from both sides. Before the forum begins, the pro-Redskins group plans to hold a rally at 6:30 p.m. outside the school.
The district appears to be trying to phase out the Redskins name. In the last couple of years, it has stopped ordering the Redskins name on school-issued athletic uniforms. A new football scoreboard does not display a mascot, and the mascot has not appeared at any sports events this year. A digitized welcome sign in front of the high school still occasionally flashes the Redskins name.
Tensions seem to be running on overdrive over the issue, between Monday’s late afternoon pro-Redskins news conference at the airport, followed a few hours later by a school district statement spelling out strict ground rules for the forum.
Among the 12 ground rules for the session, the district said people need to show mutual respect and “check egos at the door,” “accept differences of opinion” and “patiently absorb what others are saying” to just name a few. Anyone in blatant violation of the rules may be asked to leave.
Both sides will give opening statements before attendees who had to pre-register with the district are broken up into smaller groups for discussion and then report back to the School Board prior to closing remarks. The session is expected to last until at least 9:30 p.m.
The pro-Redskins group had the village hang a “Save The Redskin Tradition” banner above Central Avenue two weeks ago.
The banner is symbolic of how serious the divide is within the community over the Redskin issue.
But the School Board, which began studying the matter months ago, and Superintendent Michael J. Vallely are in no hurry to make a decision. In fact, the district said no decision will be made for the 2015-16 school year.
It remains a hot-button topic, given the controversy swirling over the National Football League’s Washington Redskins team name, and in New York State, where Lancaster is just one of three remaining school districts with their Redskins mascot in place.
In Lancaster, the Native American population totals 0.2 percent. Still, Native Americans whom the district brought to a round-table discussion in January said the name is a form of ethnic stereotyping and is racist.
Earlier Monday, former Lancaster School Board member Brenda Christopher told media that many Native Americans across the country have reached out to the pro-Redskins group to help in the effort to preserve the mascot.
“We took two of them up on it. We want our School Board to hear us,” Christopher said. “We’ve been the Redskins for 68 years. It’s never been an issue. All of the sudden, it’s an issue.”
Christopher said the Redskins group “could have very easily drove down the Thruway and brought in” local Native Americans who support retaining the Redskins mascot.
Also Monday, Dennis Yellowhorse Jones who grew up in Navajo Nation near Gallup, N.M, and runs three Navajo-owned businesses, issued a statement to the Lancaster School District supporting the Redskins moniker as a tribute to Native Americans and also slamming John Kane, a radio talk show host who has told the district the Redskins’ nickname is offensive and should be changed.
Both Yancey and Milk are meeting Tuesday afternoon with Vallely and School Board President Kenneth Graber in a closed-door session. Vallely declined to comment Monday.