Superintendent sets record straight on school nickname debate

No more Indian? Not so fast, says Gundersen

According to Pascack Valley Superintendent Erik Gundersen, the only change currently in the works is that the school will start to move away from using the Indian head logo.

According to Pascack Valley Superintendent Erik Gundersen, the only change currently in the works is that the school will start to move away from using the Indian head logo.

Kyle Comito, Staff Writer

Looks like the Indian is here to stay, for now at least.

Despite the recent rumors going among the Pascack Valley community, changing the Indian mascot is not something that the administration is discussing at this time, according to Pascack Regional High School District Superintendent Erik Gundersen.

Over the summer, word spread around the student body that the administration was to change the name without the input of the students. This resulted in an outpouring of anger, mostly on social media, from people who opposed the change. Naturally, supporters of the change appeared and stated their opinions as well.

How do you feel about the Pascack Valley Indian nickname and logo?

  • Keep them both (83%, 439 Votes)
  • They both should be changed (10%, 51 Votes)
  • Change the logo, but keep the nickname (4%, 19 Votes)
  • I have no strong opinion on this issue (4%, 19 Votes)

Total Voters: 528

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Then came the petition. Based off these rumors, former Pascack Valley student Jimmy Alburtus started an online petition against the administration, demanding a vote. The petition reads, “It has come to our attention that [the Indian] is being changed by the PVHS administration without a proper debate or discussion and a vote from the student body, alumni, and community.” The petition has over 1,100 signatures, and has clearly rallied the public in the exact way it was intended, as a number of students have shared the link over social media. Naturally, a counter petition was also created, in effort to support the possible change. 

Truth is, after all of the dust settled, all of these rumors were not grounded in actual fact. According to Gundersen, the mascot is not something that the Board is discussing at this time, and there has been “no movement” towards changing the Indian. Gundersen and the administration have talked with some school groups about the name, but that has been the extent of their action. If anything, the recent outcry against changing the name may have helped pushed the issue into the administration’s view. Even then, do not be expecting the name to change anytime soon, says Gundersen.

Pascack Valley will be ultilizing the PV Block Letters more often than the Indian head
Pascack Valley will use the PV Block Letters more often than the Indian head

Still, the district has not been completely inactive on this front over the summer. Gundersen and the Board have taken one minor administrative action. The initiative is to gradually change the emphasis from the Indian head logo to the PV block letters. This is done primarily in places such as letterheads, which go out to colleges and elsewhere. The purpose of this move is to avoid conflict wherever possible, and to keep the focus on the school rather than the mascot. Gundersen called the action a “good compromise” for the moment, as it lessens the amount in which we see the potentially offensive logo, while still retaining it. In fact, Pascack Hills underwent a similar situation not long ago, generally phasing out their own “Pistol Pete” logo.

Those who oppose the change say that the Indian is a symbol of pride and bravery, and is used in a positive light by the school. Others note the history of the Indian mascot at Pascack Valley, as it has been utilized by the school for 60 years. They note the countless sports events, school merchandise, and the well-known chant (“We are the Indians/the mighty mighty Indians”) as evidence of the good that comes out of the logo.These people say this name and logo combination have been embraced by the community and engrained in the school’s culture, and “political correctness” should not change what has always been the logo.

On the other hand, many argue that the Indian is racially intolerant, and is a crude reminder of the massacre of Native Americans over time by those who moved to the new world and stole their land. The name “Indian” is also a misnomer for natives, and the logo is an offensive and stereotypical Native American with a Mohawk. Some went on to argue that no group of people should ever be represented by a sports team or school.

So where did all of these rampant rumors we have been hearing throughout the summer come from, exactly? The criticism is likely triggered by recent national debates surrounding sports teams such as the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins. Another possible explanation lies in the recent #PeaceInPV scandal that occurred in the spring. Apparently, outside media who covered the story were the first to comment and bring the mascot issue to light. Many used it as an example of the alleged racial intolerance that was going on at PV. Gundersen noted that one media source in particular was shocked that we used the “racially charged” Mohawk logo in this day and age. Specifically, when the Anti-Defamation League visited PV, it found this as an area of concern as well.

As for the petitions and student outrage over social media, Gundersen believes that there are better ways to let the administration know one’s point of view. Surprisingly, even with the controversy raging on, Gundersen said he has not received one phone call or letter from a student or member of the community to state their opinion all summer.

“A letter or call to me, or speaking at a Board meeting to express one’s specific views and opinions on a matter means much more than simply signing an online petition that makes claims that are not true.””

— Pascack Regional District Superintendent Erik Gundersen

This is not the first time that the mascot has come under fire. Back in 2004, the school faced an almost identical controversy. At the time, the administration responded with an official forum where students on both sides presented their arguments. It ultimately resulted in a vote of the students and faculty, with 67 percent voting in favor of keeping the mascot.

Rest assured, the Indian will continue to live on throughout the 2015-16 Pascack Valley School year, as it has been made clear a change is not on the Board’s agenda. However, with the conversation started this summer, expect the debate to continue and many to voice their positions. Gunderson said if the Board were ever to take a look at the mascot, he would expect it to weigh the students’ and community’s opinions heavily.

A couple students took a different angle on this topic, and their tweets stood out. They chose to take a bigger-picture view, downplaying the controversy and commenting on what they feel PV is really about.