A village in central New York voted on Monday night to maintain its controversial seal, which depicts a white man with his hands placed on the shoulders of a Native American man, apparently choking him.
Whitesboro, New York residents voted in favor of the 19th-Century town seal by 157-55 this week, the Associated Press reports. The seal appears on police vehicles, city trucks, signage and letterhead.
As America moves past Confederate flags, NY votes 157-55 to keep a seal of a white guy strangling a Native American. pic.twitter.com/RsDPRqJA4n
— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) January 12, 2016
On the Whitesboro town website, officials say that the white man depicted on the seal is Hugh White, the Connecticut man who founded Whitesboro, then White's Town, in 1788. On the seal, they say, he's taking part in a "friendly wrestling match":
He [White] lived among the Indians as their friend and the Village Seal depicts a friendly wrestling match that helped foster good relations between White and the Indians.
Here's the town's account of the "friendly" match in full:
An incident that occurred between an Oneida Indian and Hugh White sealed a lasting friendship and confidence. An Oneida Indian of rather athletic form was one day present at the White's house with several of his companions and at length for fun commenced wrestling. After many trials, the chief became conqueror and he came up to Hugh White and challanged him. White dared not risk being brow beaten 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 felt conscious of personal strength and he concluded that even should he be thrown, that would be the lesser of two evils in the eyes of the Oneida Indians than to acquire the reputation of cowardice by declining. He accepted the challenge, took hold of the Indian and by a fortunate trip, succeeded almost instantly in throwing him. As he saw him falling, in order to prevent another challenge, he fell upon the Indian for an instant and it was some moments before he could rise.
When the Indian finally rose, he shrugged his shoulders and was said to have muttered "UGH", you good fellow too much". Hugh White became a hero in the eyes of the Oneida Indians. This incident made more manifest the respect of the Indian for White. In all ways, White dealt fairly with the Oneida tribe and gained their confidence, which brought about good-will.
According to the village website, the seal was revised slightly in 1977, to depict White's hands "being placed on the Indian's shoulders and not so close to his neck." The revision was in response to a notice of claim filed with the Village Board decrying the seal as offensive.
"Political correctness, who cares? This is our village, who cares what the world thinks? I want to see this settled today," one voter told local station WKTV.
The petition stated, "It is no longer appropriate to shroud oneself in the Confederate flag, or use Native Americans as mascots."
"Portrayals such as this cause psychological harm to Native American youth," said Native American advocate and educator Molly Sunshine an on open letter to the town of Whitesboro published on Monday. "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 founder," she 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."
Monday's vote was reportedly "informal," and the fate of the seal will be addressed again at a follow-up meeting on Tuesday evening.