Residents in the American town of Whitesboro, New York, have voted to keep an emblem that appears to depict a white man choking a Native American man.
The emblem has created a big controversy between the white population and the Native population in the town for many years. The Native population interprets the emblem as a white settler choking a Native king. On the other hand, the white population sees the emblem as a friendly wrestling match between the white settler and the Native king, in which the white man won, gaining the respect of the Native King.
Whitesboro is located in Oneida County. The population of the town is around 3,700. The town is located close to an area that was occupied by some Native people before the arrival of white Europeans on the American continent.
As reported by the New York Times, Native Americans residing in the town have complained about the image the town uses as its official emblem for over four decades.
However, until recently—when the Natives decided to give one final push for the removal of the emblem—very little has been done about their concern. This advocating eventually led to a vote on January 11, to determine whether the emblem should be removed or not.
With 212 votes cast, 157 voted in favor of allowing the image to continue to represent the community. Only 55 voted to change the emblem. Unfortunately, since the majority carries the vote, the emblem will continue to represent the town despite the controversy surrounding it.
Clerk of the town, Dana Nimey-Olney, told reporters that there is nothing wrong with the emblem. He was quoted as saying, “Whitesboro views this seal as a moment in time when good relations were fostered.”
According to a story posted on Whitesboro’s website concerning the emblem, in 1784, Hugh White moved to Sedaquate, which is now Whitesboro. White was the first white inhabitant in the area. Up until that moment, the area had been the Oneida Indians’ home. According to the story, an Oneida chief visited White and challenged him to a wrestling match.
“White dared not risk being browbeaten by an Indian nor did he want to be called a coward. In early manhood, he had been a wrestler, but of late felt he was out of practice. He (White) accepted the challenge, took hold of the Indian and by a fortunate trip, succeeded almost instantly in throwing him,”an excerpt of the story said.
However, Molly Sunshine, a Native American advocate and educator, disagreed with the story behind the emblem in an open letter to the town.
“Portrayals such as this cause psychological harm to Native American youth. I do acknowledge the cultural practice among the Oneida who did traditionally engage in friendly wrestling matches. I get it. There is a historical context. But that’s beside the point. There is also a history of slavery in America, but glorifying that on a town seal would never be deemed appropriate, no matter how historically accurate. I know, I know. White is the last name of [the] founder. But the combination of all of the different elements on the seal, together, evoke a soup of emotions among outsiders looking in, conjuring up discomfort, defensiveness, and even pain. Images matter and your image is harmful,” Sunshine wrote.
The agitation for the change of the emblem is said to have started in 1977. A group of Native activists filed a notice with the Village Board, protesting that the emblem depicts a white man choking an Indian. The group said the emblem is demeaning, degrading, and must be changed.
However, the depiction was slightly altered to make it clear that Mr. White’s hands are on the chief’s shoulders, and not around his neck.
But that did not end the controversy. Agitations continued, and in 1999, the former mayor of the town, Joseph Malecki, decided to gather support for the emblem to be changed. Despite his hopeful intentions, his efforts failed. Now that this current effort has failed, it is unclear when the Natives will finally have the controversial emblem removed.