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Whitesboro, N.Y.'s seal is not a depiction of a 'friendly wrestling match' and is a violent and racist portrayal

By       Message Samuel Vargo       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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A controversial village seal in New York state has many upset. Unfortunately, all who find great fault with the seal don't live in Whitesboro. On Monday, Jan. 11, Whitesboro residents voted overwhelmingly to keep the town emblem, which appears to depict a white man choking a Native American man. Throughout the United States, others see it as the epitome of racism and violence. And on Facebook groups and personal pages of Facebook members, especially pages of American Indians, the past couple of weeks has been rampant with fury over this town's refusal to replace its village seal.

Nobody in Indian Land knew or cared about Whitesboro in 2015; but early in 2016 things sure changed -- it's a place of controversy and contempt right now. Even Stephen Cobert on The Late Show With Stephen Cobert, took a few jabs at Whitesboro during his monologue on Thursday, Jan. 14. Cobert said that although the Presidential election will take place later this fall, "We've already had the most important vote in 2016, in my opinion."

The election Cobert was referring to, of course, was a village-wide special vote in Whitesboro concerning the village seal: To be or not to be. Cobert went on to say that someone from outside of Whitesboro started off the controversy by saying the village's seal was racist. Well, Cobert snipped that that's a term that's thrown around "rather casually these days" and then the Whitesboro village seal took up the screen and Cobert barked, "Okay, that's a white guy strangling an Indian."

Then the camera zoomed in on the pioneer's face who was strangling the Native man, just to see if the guy was "white" and yes, the man's face was as white as photocopy printer paper. "I believe that is Sherman Williams Caucasian Number 54," the comic quipped, then went on to ridicule the little village even more - having the founder's name as "White" and the town's name as "Whitesboro" further complicates this racial/prejudicial mishmash of controversy, Cobert lampooned in a way that only Stephen Cobert can pull off in such a hilarious yet biting way.

Others don't see it as funny at all, however. Ronday Thornton, a Creek Indian from Alabama, told this writer a few days ago, "Sure, that seal is racist. It shows what these F***'ing Europeans did to us and keep doing to us. I don't know how to put it, Sam, are these people from Russia originally? Just the name of the town is racist."

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Thornton, who also goes by the name "Red Chief" and lives in Tuskegee, Ala., told this writer late last year in a telephone interview that he and some associates plan to establish an Independent Nation of Creek and Muskogee Indians in Alabama and declare independence from the state of Alabama and the USA.

"As we call it, I was a descendant of the First Nation People. And as a people, we got lost, real lost. Do you think everything is going well in the USA? My brother (Native American activist) Canupa (Gluha Mani) and I are reviving the Indian traditions. Getting back to Mother Nature. Getting back to Mother Earth. Doing things with our hands. I've had enough of that rhetoric. Everything they have they got from our people anyway. These are my people and they need help. Homelessness. People who have fallen through the cracks. I regret it all. And I've seen it all."

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Is this a depiction of a friendly wrestling match or does it look more like a violent attack?
(Image by villagevoice.com)
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In a prepared written statement, Autonomous AIM Lancaster (Pa.) said, "Yes, we at The American Indian Movement of Lancaster, Pa., feel that the emblem for Whitesboro, N.Y., is racially offensive and should be removed and changed. It is no secret that we are against racial discrimination and mascotry. That's why we feel that symbol and flag should be changed at the earliest opportunity."

The borough has around 3,700 residents and the vote Monday night was 157 in favor of keeping the seal of a total of 212 votes cast. With such a poor voter turnout for this special election, to call the townsfolk apathetic about this issue sort of hits the nail on the head. But there may be other reasons, too, like many of the town's residents claiming that they were not aware that Whitesboro even had an official seal.

Meanwhile, down at the village government building, there are other views. "Whitesboro views this seal as a moment in time when good relations were fostered," Dana Nimey-Olney, the village clerk, told the Associated Press.

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The seal has had an ugly, yet cryptic, history. According to the town's website, Hugh White moved to Sedaquate, which is now Whitesboro, in 1784. He was the first white settler in the area which now encompasses the little village caught in the net of wrangling. And this land was inhabited by the Oneida Indian tribe during pioneering days, and still is today.

Legend has it that one day an Oneida chief visited White and challenged him to a wrestling match. "(Hugh) White dared not risk being browbeaten by an Indian nor did he want to be called a coward," according to the story posted to the town's website. "In early manhood, he had been a wrestler, but of late felt he was out of practice."

The image is supposedly the moment that White defeated the Oneida chief in a "friendly" wrestling match, the village website further explains.

"Portrayals such as this cause psychological harm to Native American youth," said Native American advocate and educator Molly Sunshine Manning in an open letter to the town. "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.

"Yes, I know, I know. White is the last name of [the] founder," Manning added. "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."

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)
 

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