Mohawk parents lose federal challenge to ban on recitation 6-30-07

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A federal judge dismissed a discrimination lawsuit filed on behalf of Mohawk students at a northern New York school district that banned recitation of the traditional Mohawk “Thanksgiving Address” at the start of the school day.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas McAvoy ruled Thursday that officials of the Salmon River School District removed the address from school functions because they believed it might be viewed as a prayer that violated separation of church and state, not because it was Mohawk.

The parents of several students had argued the address is a “non-religious expression of Mohawk culture” and that the ban represented “a discriminatory pattern of behavior which seeks to exclude and eliminate Mohawk and other aboriginal culture and life from the district schools, while promoting the dominant Euro-American culture.”

“There was no evidence that the decision ... was intended to discriminate against Mohawk students,” Gregg Johnson, the Albany lawyer who represented the district, told the Times Union of Albany, N.Y.

An attorney for the Mohawks said they will consider an appeal.

For about three years, morning announcements included the address read in Mohawk. It was later limited to a recitation at the beginning and end of each week. The school district announced the ban in May 2005, citing the church-state issue.

More than two-thirds of the students in the district, which is near the St. Regis reservation in Franklin County, are Mohawk.