A village in upstate New York addressed criticism of its old official seal—which showed a White man choking a Native American man—by replacing it with another violent image.
The Associated Press (The AP) reports today (September 28) that the village of Whitesboro updated its seal to depict what the article describes as "village founder Hugh White going head-to-head in a wrestling stance with an Oneida Indian." The new seal keeps the old one’s theme of violence against Indigenous people while introducing three major aesthetic changes: 1) White’s hands are no longer on the Oneida man’s neck, 2) the Oneida man is not rendered with red skin and 3) updating sartorial choices.
Whitesboro’s website describes the allegedly friendly encounter that inspired the seals:
An Oneida Indian of rather athletic form was one day present at the Whites’ 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 challenged 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 goodwill.
“We didn’t have a problem with the wrestling match," village clerk Dana Nimey-Olney told The AP. “It was how they became friendly."
Whitesboro’s seal has encountered criticism for decades. The AP notes that an unnamed Native advocacy group sued the village to change the seal in 1977. Former "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah" correspondent Jessica Williams lampooned the controversy in a 2016 segment. Nimey-Olney revealed to Williams that the then-current seal—the one with the white background that Whitesboro just eliminated—actually replaced this previous version following the lawsuit:
The village board held a vote in 2016 for residents to determine the status of the seal. The AP reports that 157 of 212 voters chose to leave the seal intact. Nonetheless, the outrage generated by "The Daily Show" segment and other news reports compelled the village to design a new seal.
The AP reports that village officials planned to work with the Oneida Indian Nation, which oversees several surrounding tribal lands, on the new design. Oneida Nation spokesman Joel Barkin told The AP that tribal officials had no comment on the new seal.
American Community Survey data notes that 99.3 percent of Whitesboro’s 3,731 residents are White.