The Story Behind Our Namesake, Seawanhaka
By: AMAYA HENRY / STAFF WRITER
The LIU Brooklyn newspaper Seawanhaka was established in 1928. But what does “Seawanhaka” mean and what’s the history behind it?
Prior to colonization by European settlers more than 300 years ago, Long Island was home to thirteen Native American tribes. Long Island was initially known as “Sewanhacky,” the name signifying the abundance of quahog, or hard clam, on the island, which the tribes used to make “wampum,” that they used as money.
When Europeans came to Long Island, they brought deadly diseases with them, nearly wiping out the Native American population as a whole. Over time, as the population of Native Americans continued to decrease, the Europeans drove them from their land, pursuing years of colonial oppression to Native Americans.
While the practice of land acknowledgment dates back centuries in Native communities, it is used today to recognize Native peoples who are the original stewards of the lands we live on now.
Long Island itself has its own Land Acknowledgement, but this past Indigenous People’s day, LIU Brooklyn issued its own.
In the agreement, the institution recognizes that Brooklyn was originally the “Lenapehoking,” or the “Land of the Lenape.”
It goes on to give more information about the other tribes that used to inhabit the area and the tasks they completed in their daily lives. The purpose of this acknowledgement is to show respect and to honor the Native Americans who lived on this land before us.
While this acknowledgement brings positive awareness to Native Americans and their original ownership of land, cultural appropriation of Native culture on Long Island has recently been called out.
In 2020, Sewanhaka High School in Floral Park, New York reviewed their mascot for racial insensitivity. The school’s mascot is an “Indian” but is pictured as a Native American. This is already politically incorrect as the term “Indian” refers to the group of people from South Asia and not the North American Natives.
A student from the high school told the Long Island Herald that she thinks the school district is exploiting the Native American mascot and its use to represent the school is a “shady, performative act of allyship.”
There was a petition to change the mascot and while it collected over 1,300 signatures and the movement generated powerful conversations, as of now, Sewanhaka High School’s mascot is still the Indians.
While we at this newspaper acknowledge that we bear a Native American name, we would like to make clear to our readers that we are honored to work under this title and we do not use this name as a mascot of any sort.