By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – It was a constituent that alerted Village Trustee MacGuire Benton to verbiage on historic markers at Council Rock, a Native American meeting place where the Susque- hanna River flows out of Otsego Lake.
“I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it previously,” he said. “The sign refers to Native Americans
as ‘Indians’. It’s racially insensitive and incorrect, and it needs to be updated.”
The signs, which were installed by the state Department of Education as WPA projects in the 1930s, refer to Council Rock as: “Famous meeting place of the Indians.”
That prompted Trustee Cindy Falk to raise the same concern about The Indian Grave, two blocks away at Estli Avenue and Main Street. A “newer” sign, it commemorates remains that were excavated and reburied in a mound there.
Even newer plaques, such as the one installed a year ago January at First Presbyterian Church, commemorating New York State’s 1827 emancipation of slaves, does include updated language, said Benton.
“We’re not the only municipality making these changes,” he said. “In this moment of social awareness and racial justice, I’m sure the state Department of Education is familiar with this request.”
Trustee Richard Sternberg made the motion to reach out to the Education Department. “We need to get ahead of this,” he said. “That way, we can acknowledge that we recognize this and immediately send it on to be corrected.”
Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh Kuch asked Trustee Jeanne Dewey, as chair of the Parks Board, to spearhead the task.
However, Trustee Joe Membrino cautioned against jumping too quickly to make the change. “I’ve been involved in Indian Affairs and we need to be careful how we’re presenting this,” he said. “We should investigate and we should make the request, but we shouldn’t assume what is politically or culturally correct. We need to do our due diligence.”
“Whoever is making the new signs will be awfully sensitive,” said Sternberg.
As part of the TEP project on Pioneer Street, the mayor said the village had to work with Mohawks and Oneidas to assure compliance, and that they still have connections to the tribal organizations that they can reach out to clarify the proper language for the sign update.
“It’s not about taking down the signs,” said Tillapaugh. “It’s about using language that is culturally appropriate.”
No one mentioned that one of Cooperstown’s most famous statues, “The Indian Hunter” by John Quincy Adams Ward, is in Lakefront Park.