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Column: “Redskins” is a family name

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By Bob Lonsberry

 I am a Redskin. Always have been, always will be. That’s the mascot at the high school in my hometown. The Canisteo Redskins. My mother was a Redskin, I was a Redskin, 45 succeeding graduating classes since have all been Redskins.

But this year will be the last.

The government said so. Off in Albany, the bureaucrats in the state capital. They are offended by the word. They’ve never been to Canisteo, they didn’t ask us about it, they have no idea how we live or what we value.

But they know they are in charge, and they know we are powerless. So they put their wind turbines on our hilltops and they bury their trash near our lakes and they decide what our children will learn and what we may say. They tell us where we can carry our guns and how much water can be in our toilets and whether or not we can burn our leaves.

And now they’re regulating mascots. And we got the ax.

Not the tomahawk, that would be offensive.

We got the ax. Our little town, amidst the hills of the Southern Tier, where we’ve lived our way since America was new, they’ve made us an offender for a word.

The state of New York, arguably the most corrupt and oppressive state in the Union, has issued a decree for its upstate colony. After the end of this school year, no school mascots may use Native American names or imagery. No more Chiefs or Braves or Warriors. No Tribe, no Red Raiders, no Indians. And certainly no Redskins.

No tomahawks, no feathers, no warbonnets. Nothing in any way reminiscent of Native Americans or their imagery.

Because the government said so.

In a nation with freedom of thought and speech, the government has told us what we must think and what we cannot say.

And next fall they will be Tigers or Blue Jays or Devils, or some other meaningless name with no link to our school or our town or our history and heritage. Maybe we should be the Serfs or the Peons or the Submitters, to train our children to their subservient relationship with the government.

But paperwork has been issued and there will be no public comment and failure to comply will elicit the vindictive ire of our lords and masters. Resistance is futile and it’s a new day and our kind of people aren’t the right kind of people.

But I want to make this point: Those who are triggered by our mascot’s name are taking offense where none was intended. And the name “Redskin” as applied to the students and athletes of the schools in Canisteo, New York, is neither offensive nor bigoted. It is not an insult to Native American people and has never been intended to demean or disrespect them. Rather, it reflects the community’s heritage as a one-time village of refuge for native people and others, and it seeks to inspire students and athletes by challenging them to live up to the history and forebears of their town.

Further, the Redskins family is bound by blood and geography over generations. The sons and daughters of Canisteo share a hometown and a heritage that is sacred to them. It defines them and enriches their lives. It ties them to those who have gone before and those who will follow after. “Redskins” is not a racial epithet, it is a family name.

The people of Canisteo reverence and remember the Senecas and others who lived in the valley our histories share. We have hunted the same hills, fished the same creeks, seen the same stars overhead. If anything, our culture has tried to replicate theirs, and feel their presence in the home that is now ours. The Canisteo family includes and embraces all who have ever lived here.

We are all Redskins together.

Yes, the government will take away our name. But it will not take away our identity. And it cannot change our past.

For most of a hundred years we have been Redskins, and proud to be called by the name. And we reject any ex post facto political correctness that brands us or our parents and grandparents as bigots or supremacists. The name meant no harm and it did no harm. No one should be ashamed and no one should apologize. And no lies should be told about the past.

But it is what it is.

As New Yorkers, as Canisteans, we aren’t even allowed to choose our own school mascot. Because not even in our little valley can you escape the long reach of an oppressive and intrusive government.

(Bob Lonsberry, a Canisteo native, is the father of nine children, a veteran of the United States Army, and a newsman for nearly three decades. The former newspaper columnist, reporter, and author, is a marathon runner. You can hear Bob mornings on NewsRadio WHAM 1180 in Rochester and NewsRadio 570 WSYR and 106.9 FM in Syracuse. You can reach him at [email protected])

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