American Racism in the Name of Patriotism?

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The New York Times The New York Times New York Region  

School's New Iroquois Flag Stirs Protest


Published: November 17, 2003

LaFAYETTE, N.Y., Nov. 14 For more than 30 years, young members of the five tribes who live on the Onondaga reservation some 10 miles south of Syracuse have felt that the schools they attend, which are run by non-Indians, were not treating them as equals.

Last Wednesday, the LaFayette Central School District took a major and controversial step in an effort to dispel that feeling. It began flying the purple and white flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, which symbolizes peace between the five tribes, the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk.

Some residents who are not American Indians, angered by the decision, issued a petition and threats that the flag would be torn down.

LaFayette's superintendent, Mark Mondanaro, said he was disappointed. "I have a tendency to be upset with anyone who doesn't have an open mind," he said.

Some 23 percent of LaFayette's 1,100 students are Indians, including those who live in the town. For 50 years, the district has operated an elementary school on the reservation that comprises kindergarten through eighth grade. After eighth grade, students transfer to LaFayette Junior/Senior High in town, where the flag-raising was held.

"It's the right thing to do," Mr. Mondanaro said, "and frankly, it's embarrassing it hasn't been done before this."

Wendy Gonyea, who was a student there in the 1960's, said attending the school was "like being in a foreign environment." "Some teachers tried to make us feel welcome," she said, "but there was never anything official. This is official, and it's about time."

Ms. Gonyea said she was in college in April 1970, when high school seniors organized a walkout to protest the atmosphere. The state Education Department became involved and helped bring about several changes. The school formed a club that dealt with American Indian culture and received more books on the topic, said Audrey Shenandoah, one of the elders on the reservation. Additional supplies also went to the school on the reservation, said Elder Shenandoah, who has 10 children, some of whom were in school at the time.

Students did not ask the district to fly the flag then, because it had not yet become popular on the reservation, Ms. Gonyea said. A decade later, the nation's lacrosse team started carrying the flag to competitions, and it became a unifying symbol.

For 10 years, students and parents have asked the district to fly the flag. They found a sympathetic ear in Mr. Mondanaro, who became district superintendent last year. He said he spent six months researching the legality of the issue, and found that one other New York school district had set a precedent: the Salmon River School District near the Canadian border. The St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, where some Canadians also live, is within the district, and 60 percent of the school district's 1,525 students are American Indians. Like LaFayette, the Salmon River district runs a school on the reservation. Last year, it began flying the flags of both the Iroquois Confederacy and Canada. There was not a ripple of dissent from the community, said Salmon River's district superintendent, Glenn Bellinger.

Mr. Bellinger said flying all three flags had a positive effect. "It says we're all equal," he said, adding that he thought Lafayette's controversy "will work out eventually."

Jean Schneible, a mother of three, two of whom are still in the district, collected nearly 100 signatures on a petition asking that the flag be flown lower than the American flag, a position also supported by some veterans groups. She said she was disappointed that the district flew them at equal heights. "I hope that somebody takes it down. I would never destroy other people's property, but I think people will take it down and destroy the pole that it's on that the taxpayers paid for."

Ms. Schneible, who said her mother was half Indian, said the district had a long history given preferential treatment to American Indians, especially by ignoring discipline problems among its students. She said Indian students had pulled her daughter's hair on the bus and called her derogatory names, but that no one was disciplined.

"I told her you get good and bad in any race," the mother said. "but today, she's terrified of them."

Mr. Mondanaro said that the law required that the flags fly at the same height and that as long as the American flag is to the left, it is in the position of prominence.

When officials first considered flying the flag, Pat Curtis, a member of LaFayette's Memorial Post 1955 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the school board, "You can do it, but it won't stay there."

Ms. Gonyea, who attended the meeting, said: "My heart sank a little. I don't think they know us."

Some students were quoted in the local newspaper as saying they would take the flag down, their anger fueled by a recent attack at the junior/senior high school.

In September, a seventh-grader who is an American Indian was charged with a hate crime and expelled, accused of tackling the homecoming princess, who is white, and ripping out some of her hair. The victim had been dancing with her boyfriend, an Indian, in the school cafeteria, and the seventh-grader is accused of yelling to him that he should stick with his own kind.

On Wednesday, Ms. Gonyea's 16-year-old son, Steven Thomas, took part in the flag-raising ceremony while some of his non-Indian friends stayed behind, either in protest or in apathy. "The purpose wasn't to divide us, but unite us," Steven said. "Hopefully, some younger kids coming up will give respect to both flags. That's the right thing to do."

Ms. Schneible said the fight was far from over. She said she was consulting state officials, considering a lawsuit and planning to run for school board. "If I have to fight them tooth and nail, that's what I'm going to do."

Meanwhile, the district plans to raise another Iroquois Confederacy flag at Grimshaw Elementary School next week.

Elder Shenandoah will be there. "It's a good sign of things to come," she said.

All right.  Gloves off.

This kind of crap really twists my shorts.  

And it wouldn't be so bad if it weren't so prevalent here in the 'educated' and 'enlightened' state of New York.

Racism?  Yeah... that's a pretty pathetic stance.  

But what I'm talking about is Capital-I-Ignorance from all the Little Who's in Whoville.   Poor insipid little trolls with marginal cognitive reasoning and even less social awareness.... given to claim a  flagpole... A DAMN FLAGPOLE... as their entitled possession by virtue of their paying taxes the same as any other resident of New York State. 

Good Gravy; what's next?  The taxpayers are paying for  trout to stock New York waterways... do these selfish nimrods claim the FISH in the waters to be 'theirs' by virtue of paying taxes?  How about the migratory fowl which eat the grass on New York State properties?  Would the grass be 'theirs' having been planted and maintained by taxpayer monies?  Should they now be called 'Taxpayer Geese' instead of 'Canada Geese' once landed on the 'property' of taxpayer-supported New York State lands?

These selfish, self-serving and self-absorbed individuals are truly the ones in the most desperate need of a solid education in civics and social responsibility.

The American mentality of 'taxpayer entitlement' gone amok.

Executed under the guise of American Style 'patriotism', no less.  These pathetic little drones don't even understand United States flag etiquette and protocol... they take it upon themselves to conjure up 'rules' such as "...  asking that the flag be flown lower than the American flag, a position also supported by some veterans groups".  ONE HUNDRED signatures??  Mabel, we've got a resounding mandate there,  THAT'S for sure. 

See my page on SUNY College at Potsdam's decision to fly the Haudenosaunee flag next to the U.S. flag.  If the State University of New York has no issue with flying a Haudenosaunee flag next to a U.S. flag, why on earth would some small town in Upstate New York have a problem?  

Inspired patriotism?  Or flagrant racism?  Which is the lesson these pious parents wish to teach their kids in public schools?

And here I thought the purpose of public education was to enlighten the minds of impressionable youth.  Silly me.   It appears that some of the 'taxpayers' in the LaFayette school system wish to impart some values not normally found in an institution of knowledge and education such as "Indians are less equal because they don't pay taxes" (then why in hell have I've been filling out NYS income tax forms and paying the same tax rates as non-Natives for over thirty years?).   

Perhaps values such as "Racism is bad but that doesn't apply to Indians because they only 'take' from  hard-working taxpayers like us" is a message they wish to impress on their kids (does that mean I get a rebate for ALL the State sales tax I've paid for OVER FORTY YEARS?  Yee-HAW... make an appointment at the closest Mercedes dealer for me.)

Here's the pitch.

If you agree with LaFayette School Superintendent Mark Mondanaro's policy of flying the Haudenosaunee flag next to the U.S. flag IN ACCORDANCE WITH CURRENT U.S. FLAG FLYING ETIQUETTE (which I KNOW you do), email Mr. Mondanaro and let him no you support his decision.  His email address is:

You might also .cc the LaFayette School Board of Education President (Jim Wolf - ) and Vice-President (Lisa Garabedian - ).

And if you disagree with Mr. Mondanaro's decision to fly the Haudenosaunee flag, perhaps you need to cut out some of your busy stuff and just sit and think about your definitions of equality, respect and racism.  When the 'Me' starts to taken precedence over the 'We', you need to re-evaluate your priorities.

'Thinking' is not necessarily an onerous activity nor is it an unproductive use of time.   Maybe if more Upstate New Yorkers started to actually think for themselves instead of mindlessly parroting out the rhetoric of other minds, there might be more original and innovative discussion of critical issues which are plaguing this beleaguered area of the state.

But given the present national climate of "Don't ask and Don't ask" (you know the drill... "Shut up and say as we say") it's highly unlikely there'll be much enlightenment going on for the next five years... at least.

What?  You don't think Bush is going to breeze back into the Oval Office next year?

Even a pure-laine cynic such as myself knows better than that.