Students and administrators at Lewiston-Porter High School in Youngstown, New York, are apologizing for questionable banners used during the school’s homecoming football game October 5 against Cheektowaga High School.
The Cheektowaga Warriors beat the Lewiston-Porter Lancers, 52-6, but the game was played against a backdrop of about 70 banners, including some with themes that could be considered racist.
“Unfortunately, the school we were facing, the mascot is a warrior,” Lewiston-Porter Principal Paul Casseri said. “We are the Lancers. We told students in homeroom classes that we were facing the Warriors and that they should make banners for the game. What happened was that the posters got hung up and some of them showed lancers attacking, killing Native warriors.”
Neither school has a high population of American Indian students, but some Native students are enrolled in each.
“Our school, even though we don’t have a lot of Native American students, we honor the culture,” said Brian Hickson, athletic director for Cheektowaga High School. “It’s very strong here. This used to be Indian land, and we try to honor that.”
Hickson said the homecoming game, played at Lewiston-Porter, was emotional. Although he didn’t see the questionable banners, some of his players reported ripping them down, he said.
After the game, photos of the banners were posted to social media sites including Facebook, sparking outrage from the nearby Tuscarora Reservation, where about 1,200 people live. The Tuscarora are one of six tribes that make up the Iroquois Nations.
The tribe’s female leaders, known as clan mothers, particularly were outspoken about the banners, Casseri said. Clan mothers traditionally are the highest authorities in the tribe.
One banner showed the profile of an American Indian—the mascot for Cheektowaga High School—with an arrow through its head. Other banners included cartoonish drawings of American Indians, along with words like “crush the warriors” or “kill the warriors.”
Casseri apologized for the offensive banners.
“I feel terrible about it,” he said. “Our district borders the Tuscarora Reservation and we have Native students here. It’s not what we’re about. None of our kids were trying to single out Natives.”
Casseri said he was aware that photos of the banners were posted to Facebook, but he didn’t know who was responsible.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and Casseri said Lewiston-Porter plans to use that as a jumping-off point to educate students about American Indians. The month’s plans include inviting various guest speakers to the small campus to talk about the area’s rich Native heritage.
The school has a very small Native population, Casseri said. The total non-white population is about 4 percent.
The school also is reaching out to the reservation to make amends, Casseri said.
“I offer my sincere apologies,” he said. “I take full responsibility. I made a huge mistake and I should have looked at each banner ahead of time.”
The two schools belong to separate districts and are located about 30 miles apart, near Niagara Falls and the Canadian border.
The Tuscarora Indian Nation, a sovereign nation located in the town of Lewiston, New York, declined to comment for this story. Tribal officials are not blaming students or athletes for the incident, said Neil Patterson Sr., a member of the Tuscarora Nation.
“All I can say is that there is no official response at this time,” said Patterson, who spoke as an individual and not a spokesman for the tribe. “It wasn’t a planned act. Accidents happen.”