Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Plan to fly Iroquois flag angers some
By WILLIAM KATES, Associated Press First published: Saturday, October 25, 2003
LAFAYETTE — Flying the flag of the Iroquois Confederacy outside LaFayette Junior-Senior High School was supposed to promote racial sensitivity and cultural diversity.
Instead, it has evoked resentment and division.
"School officials say it's to create integration. What it accomplishes is segregation. It makes the Indians a special class. It makes our kids separate. I thought we were all Americans," said Jean Schneible, who collected more than 100 signatures to protest the flag raising planned Nov. 12.
Superintendent Mark Mondanaro said the opponents are a small minority of the town's 5,000 residents.
"This has to do with cultural diversity, about respecting differences, about honoring our history. This community shares a unique relationship with the Onondagas," Mondanaro said.
LaFayette, 10 miles south of Syracuse, borders the Onondaga Indian Nation, still the spiritual center of the ancient Iroquois Confederacy that once covered upstate New York.
Most Onondagas attend the nation school through eighth grade, then switch to LaFayette's public school. Native Americans make up 23 percent of the high school enrollment. There are about 500 students in grades 7-12.
Onondaga students and parents have been urging the LaFayette school district to fly the Iroquois flag for 30 years, said Wendy Gonyea, nation spokeswoman whose son attends the high school.
In June, the school board voted unanimously to fly the flag outside both the high school and an elementary school.
Schneible and other opponents believe there are other, inoffensive ways to recognize the Onondagas, such as exhibits and educational forums.
Nearly all the high school students are accepting of the idea, said junior Steven Thomas, an Onondaga on the student council.
"This is an important event. We will finally feel like it is our high school, too, not like we're just visitors," Thomas said. He acknowledged that relations between Indian and non-Indian students can sometimes be strained. For example, if two students fight, it can become an "Indian versus non-Indian" matter despite the cause.
The purple and white flag design depicts Hiawatha's wampum belt, a symbol of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy, Thomas said.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Follow-up from Indian Country Today
School district raises Haudenosaunee flag
Gesture of respect intended to unite community
Posted: November 25, 2003 -- 12:00pm EST
by: Tom Wanamaker / Correspondent / Indian Country Today
"Doing the right thing in the correct and appropriate manner will lead to improvement on how we treat each other and live together," said James Wolf, president of the LaFayette Board of Education. "Raising the Haudenosaunee flag alongside the U.S. flag is the proper, respectful thing to do. This action recognizes and celebrates two communities that come together as one at our schools."
Students Sarah Walsh and Steve Thomas spoke briefly on the history and significance of the American and Haudenosaunee flags, respectively. The Stars and Stripes was first to fly. After a fine rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" by the school's vocal ensemble, the Haudenosaunee flag was hoisted. When it reached the top of the flagpole, the large crowd reacted with sustained applause.
"The raising of this flag today will not further divide us as people, but unite us as a community," said Thomas, a junior who lives at the nearby Onondaga Nation and attends the high school. "With the establishment of our flag, we Native students will feel represented in our school. We are sure that today's ceremony will usher in a new era based on understanding and respect of our culture."
The ceremony also included two Thanksgiving prayers, delivered in the Onondaga language by student Rich Bennett, and Native music from Robert Shenandoah and friends.
On June 26, the school board voted unanimously to raise the Haudenosaunee flag as a gesture of respect to the Onondaga Nation, whose students comprise almost a quarter of the high school student body. While many townspeople supported the idea, others demanded a taxpayer vote on the matter or called for a boycott of the ceremony.
No dissent was evident within the large, enthusiastic crowd. The sizeable number of guests from the nation, many of whom waved miniature versions of the purple and white banner, were visibly moved after the flag went up. Onondaga residents of the district had for years requested that their flag be flown at the school.
At the school district's Oct. 9 biweekly meeting, the board was presented with a 100-signature petition against flying the flag. According to the published minutes of that meeting however, several students, parents and teachers agreed that raising the flag was a "courageous" act, the right thing to do.
Recent reports in local media paint an ambiguous picture of racial relations at the school. Some interviewees characterized LaFayette High as a "normal" place with little or no racial tension. Others cited disrespectful acts and attitudes by both Indian and non-Indian students. Regardless, the flags and the feelings they inspire are at the forefront at LaFayette High.
The Town of LaFayette, population 4,800, is located 12 miles south of Syracuse and borders the 7,300-acre territory of the Onondaga Nation, one of the six Haudenosaunee nations. The Nation School, which serves grades K-8, has been part of the LaFayette Central School District since 1954. At LaFayette High School, 120 of the 515 enrolled students, or 23.3 percent, are Native American.
Last June, the Lafayette Lancers boys' lacrosse team captured the New York State Class C State championship. The team, with a lineup featuring Indian and non-Indian players, has long been a powerhouse among Central New York's small schools.
A number of parents who opposed the flag raising reportedly pulled their children from school in protest, an act serving only to deprive the kids a positive experience in cross-cultural respect. During discussions preceding the flag raising, objections were raised that flying the Native flag would somehow denigrate the Stars and Stripes. The protocol observed at LaFayette conforms to Flag Code of the U.S. (Public Law 94-344, adopted July 7, 1976).
"No other flag or pennant should be placed above, or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States," the code reads. The phrase "to the right of the flag" means "to the observer's left." When the Stars and Stripes is in the position of prominence, it is on the left as viewed by observers.
"The idea of flying the Haudenosaunee flag has been discussed within our community for years -- now is the right time," Wolf declared. He ended his remarks with advice given him as a child by his parents: "Treat other people as you would like to be treated, and to earn respect you should show respect."
Some comments on the minority oppposing the Iroquois flag:
>> "School officials say it's to create integration. <<
Not everyone needs to be perfectly integrated. America is strong because it's a salad bowl of diversity, not a pot of homogenized gruel.
>> What it accomplishes is segregation. It makes the Indians a special class. <<
Indians who belong to federally recognized tribes already belong to a "special class." They're essentially dual citizens of their tribe and the US. The flag doesn't change their status, it merely acknowledges it.
>> It makes our kids separate. <<
Says who? How does being a member of a second group "separate" one from being a member of a first group? Are CEOs, Christians, Harvard alumni, or Boy Scouts "separate" from other US citizens because they belong to a group that not everyone belongs to?
>> I thought we were all Americans," said Jean Schneible, who collected more than 100 signatures to protest the flag raising planned Nov. 12. <<
We are. But Indians are also members of another nation, just like any dual citizens.
Is Schneible also protesting the flying of the New York state flag, which "separates" New Yorkers from other Americans? How about churches that display a cross, which "separates" them from other religions? Probably not, which suggests that the protesters' motives are racist.
The facts about tribal sovereignty
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