MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (1010 WINS/WCBS 880) -- Weeks after New York state banned public schools from using Indigenous imagery, students in a Long Island school district began painting a mural of a Native American chief.
For years, students at Massapequa High School have voted on murals designed and painted by students on an adjacent building.
The winning design that's being painted on the side of Bagel Boss this week will include the image of the chief with a feathered headdress as well as the words "Massapequa" and "Chiefs."
While other school districts on Long Island have already begun changing their mascots, Massapequa has not committed to dropping its Chiefs mascot.
The school district's website has a message of support for the mural, saying, "For generations the wall adjacent to Massapequa High School’s Main Campus, which is off school property, has been the site of a student designed, selected and painted mural." It notes that the student body voted for the winning design from a group of finalists.
New York has threatened to pull state funding from any district that does not retire their mascots and names by June 30, and any imagery by the end of the 2024-2025 academic year. Officials in offending districts could also be removed from their positions.
Under a rule approved unanimously by the New York Board of Regents last month, the state Department of Education will prohibit any "name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to Indigenous persons, tribes, nations, individuals, customs, symbols, or traditions, including actual or stereotypical aspects of Indigenous cultures."
The general sentiment in Massapequa seems to be opposition to the ban.
"I think there's probably a lot of pride in that," one resident said of the mascot. "I don't think they ever wore it in a way of mocking."
"When you think about it, Long Island is all about Indians, all the way up to Mattituck," he said. "Everything has an Indian name."
"Keep the chief," another resident said.
The new rule impacts more than a dozen school districts on Long Island, including the Syosset Braves, Wyandanch Warriors, Manhasset Indians, East Islip Redmen and Sachem Flaming Arrows, according to Newsday.
An Indigenous Mascot Advisory Group made of tribal leaders had rejected the idea that the names honor Native Americans, with one representative of the Shinnecock Indian Nation calling the move "long overdue."
However, there has been at least one exemption to the rule upstate. A public school district located on Seneca Indian Nation land has been given the green light to continue using its Warrior nickname and logo.
Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. gave the approval, saying the Salamanca school district represented “the most unique of circumstances” because of its location on the nation’s Allegany Territory, as well as its large percentages of Native American students and staff.
The state's ban includes an exception for districts that receive written approval from a federally recognized tribal nation in New York.
Salamanca is the only U.S. city built on land leased from a Native American reservation and about 38% of students in the public school system are members of the 8,000-member Seneca tribe.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.