Akwesasne – The Sept 13th meeting of the Salmon River Central School District Board was regionally newsworthy. It also provided a glimpse of the simmering political tug of war between the St. Regis Tribal Council and local New York municipal government entities.
Although the meeting minutes will show widespread comments about the status of sidelined former champion high school hockey coach Bill Plante, a deeper divide between the Tribe and the heavily state subsidized school district was evident by the end of the night.
The appearance and involvement of both past and present St. Regis Tribal Council elected officials and tribal program administrators showed the political prominence that education-related issues have taken on within Akwesasne.
Among those present was elected Tribal Sub-Chief Michael Conners, who had been accused of “political badgering” at a prior meeting by the president of the elected board of education.
A statement by former St. Regis Tribal Council member James Ransom, the chair of the tribal Education committee, caused a stir among the board members. Chief Ransom, a former elected member of the same school board in past years, expressed his indignation at the consideration of re-employing Coach Bill Plante on the Salmon River High School Shamrocks hockey team.
Plante was discharged from that position for cause. Ransom asserted that each current member of the school board could be held legally responsible without immunity for their actions if they voted to reverse previous board resolutions involving Bill Plante’s coaching status.
Mr. Plante did not speak at the meeting. Instead, a number of supporters took up his cause, including some former players from Akwesasne.
Plante had been removed from his head coaching position after a recording was made of him speaking to young male players of the Salmon River hockey program by a player who was present.
The former head coach was heard uttering numerous profanities towards the young men, in what his supporters described as a motivational pep talk. The transcribed remarks have been made available for review by the St. Regis Tribe Public Information Office at: http://goo.gl/akiBjH.
Excerpts of the coach’s comments were repeated by many of the tribal members present in the crowded board room, during the public comment session. The assembled speakers ranged from a retired tribal member of the New York State Education Department to members of the Tribal Council who were present, including two elected chiefs with Longhouse backgrounds. Salmon River Board President Christopher Nye was quoted saying that the regular board meeting had turned into a witch hunt, after speakers went 45 minutes beyond the 10 minute limit imposed on public comment. The 14 speakers were themselves split between tribal detractors and Plante supporters.
Plante was repeatedly quoted from the transcript by the meeting attendees as stating: “Nobody gives a —t whether you’re dead or alive”; “You’re a bunch of —king retards”; “Everybody’s —tting all over you guys”; ”I don’t believe you’re a bunch of —king Indians…Native Americans, whatever you want to —king be called”; and “None of you —kers are going anywhere.”
The former coach had been removed in February 2008, and the terms of his dismissal went to arbitration. The original 2008 school board resolution prohibited his ever coaching again within the school district, where he remains employed as a physical education instructor. The arbitrator ruled against Plante, for using “inappropriate, demeaning and derogatory language toward the student-athletes he was coaching, as well as using racial stereotypes.”
A vote by the school board on the issue during a closed door executive session resulted in a 4-4 tie with one member abstaining.
Following the meeting adjournment, Greg Cunningham, the school board Vice President, resigned from his elected position, without comment. He had cast one of the votes against altering the 2008 resolution to rehire Plante.
Akwesasne community members remained upset by the overall school district mentality toward the treatment of their young people. At least one member of the Tribal Council that attended the meeting intends to run for the school board in the next election. It looks as if a seat has now been made open for such an effort.