OWEGO — The Owego Apalachin Central School District will transition from their previous Indian mascot to the new River Hawks mascot, effective immediately, according to a press release on the school district’s website.
“After careful consideration and consultation with stakeholders since April, the district recognized the importance of evolving its mascot to better align with contemporary values and respect for Native American communities. The decision to retire the Indian mascot was informed by the New York State Education Department’s ruling that bans the use of Native American nicknames and imagery in educational institutions. The ruling, aimed at fostering an educational environment that respects the diverse backgrounds of all students, emphasizes the need to move away from mascots that can perpetuate stereotypes and cultural insensitivity,” the press release said.
“Our district is dedicated to creating an environment that fosters respect, understanding, and unity among all students. I’d like to thank the members of our various committees, especially those students and staff, who have been the driving force behind gathering and analyzing the thoughts and data collected during this process,” Superintendent Dr. Corey Green said.
The River Hawks mascot was chosen after several stakeholder polls and meetings.
“The River Hawk is a reflection of the local environment and wildlife, as well as a tribute to the region’s connection to the Susquehanna River, and the indigenous people of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, commonly known as the Iroquois or Six Nations, which included the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes,” the press release said.
The history of Native Americans in Owego and Apalachin stretches back thousands of years. These native communities thrived along the fertile lands of the Susquehanna River, relying on agriculture, hunting, and fishing for sustenance. The river’s natural beauty and abundance were revered, and stories and traditions were passed down through generations, underscoring the appreciation these communities held for their environment.
“Owego and Apalachin stand as a testament to the enduring presence of Native American communities, reminding us of the deep-rooted heritage that shaped our region’s history,” the press release said.
“The Susquehanna River, while a source of vitality and community for Owego and Apalachin, has also been a factor of devastation during times of major flooding. In 2006 and 2011, the river’s power unleashed widespread destruction. The flood of 2006 resulted in significant property damage, displacing residents and disrupting local businesses. The flood of 2011 was even more catastrophic, as record-breaking rainfall caused the river to breach its banks, inundating streets, homes, and infrastructure. This deluge led to the evacuation of thousands, the destruction of homes and buildings, including those on our OA campus, and the closure of vital roadways. The aftermath of these floods prompted extensive recovery and rebuilding efforts, straining community resources and testing the resilience of residents.
However, these challenging events also demonstrated the unyielding spirit of Owego and Apalachin. The school community rallied together, demonstrating remarkable solidarity as we worked to restore our neighborhoods and revitalize our school community. The impact of these floods remains a somber chapter in our history, a reminder of the river’s dual nature — both a nurturing presence and a force that can unleash devastation — but it also underscores the strength and resilience of our school community in the face of adversity.”
According to the press release, in Native American culture, the hawk holds profound importance and symbolism and embodies qualities of vision, intuition, and perception. Its keen eyesight and ability to soar to great heights connect it to a broader perspective and an ability to see beyond the surface. Different tribes attribute various meanings to the hawk, but common threads include attributes like courage, wisdom, and protection. The hawk’s soaring flight is seen as a representation of the human spirit’s ability to transcend challenges and connect with higher truths. Many tribes also associate the hawk with leadership and foresight, attributing qualities of guidance and illumination to its symbolic presence.
Additionally, the hawk’s hunting skills and focus on a specific target are interpreted as teachings about the importance of maintaining a clear focus and pursuing goals with determination. Overall, the hawk’s significance in Native American culture underscores a deep reverence for nature, its creatures, and the lessons they can impart to humans about life’s interconnectedness and the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship with the environment.
The Osprey, scientifically known as Pandion haliaetus, is a remarkable bird of prey renowned for its distinct hunting behavior and habitat preferences. Often referred to as the “River Hawk,” this nickname reflects its strong affinity for aquatic environments, particularly coastal areas, lakes, and rivers. River Hawks are characterized by their striking appearance, boasting a predominantly white underside and a dark upper body, with distinct brown markings on their wings. Due to their reliance on aquatic habitats and their distinctive fishing techniques, River Hawks are often celebrated as a symbol of natural balance and the interconnectedness of ecosystems, showcasing the delicate harmony between predators and their environment.
For the past several years there have been Ospreys nesting in the Christy J. Valvo Stadium lights at Owego Free Academy, and there have been many other sightings along the Susquehanna River from Apalachin to Owego.
The school district concluded the press release with the following statement:
“The district remains committed to educating students about the history and cultural contributions of Native American communities while upholding a mascot that unites, respects, and inspires. The transition to the River Hawks mascot is an opportunity for growth, learning, and building a stronger, more inclusive educational experience for all.
As for our collective history, we will maintain any historical documents and artifacts and utilize them in the educational experiences of our current and future students. Those members of our school community who hold strong ties, feelings, and memories of their shared experiences while attending the Owego Apalachin Central School District, and specifically Owego Free Academy, will still be able to see the ‘Appeal to the Great Spirit’ statue, now relocated and surrounded by other Haudenosaunee pieces. The artifacts are located in the poolside hallway near the Reppert Gymnasium at Owego Free Academy and are visible from the Community Pool courtyard with the fountain.
Now, we begin the logo design and rebranding process. During the polling and feedback stage, the district received numerous thoughts and ideas for a new logo design. We have started working on a professional design and will continue to engage our committees and school community as we progress. We will continue the use of our traditional Red and Blue color scheme while creating a design that reflects the collective identity and values of the Owego Apalachin Central School District and our community as a whole.”