A board of education in Connecticut is mulling reinstating a Native American-themed mascot that had previously been deemed offensive.
Killingly High School students selected Red Hawks to replace Redmen and the Board of Education approved the new moniker back in October after nearly a year of debate over the issue.
Now, with newly elected Republican board members taking their seats, the BOE is reconsidering the name change, as well as rescinding the board’s June motion that directed superintendent Steven Rioux to ensure the district “shall not have or adopt a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to another race, individual, custom or tradition” as a mascot, nickname, logo or team name.
The Norwich Bulletin reports that many Republicans used the mascot as an overarching campaign platform.
Jason Muscara, one of the four incoming Republican board members who opposed the name change, said he’s not sure whether the board will actually change the name when the mascot issue is taken up at a Wednesday meeting in the high school auditorium, but he’s hoping for discussion on the matter.
“People are upset on both sides and hope we can debate this matter without hate,” he said. “There was a process to handle this situation that was ignored by the previous board. Just look at the election results. That shows people disagree with this change.”
Muscara was elected by a wide majority despite admitting he served as vice-chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the American Guard group, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed a “general hate group.”
The move to change the name was prompted by a recent student survey, which showed most teachers and staff in favor of the change, while the majority of students voted to retain the Redmen logo, which features the profile of a Native American man wearing headdress. That mascot and logo drew criticism from local tribes.
In a July letter to the BOE, Nipmuc Tribal Council chairman Kenneth Gould Sr. said the use of Native American mascots are not flattering or welcome to the group’s members.
“Native American mascots, often portrayed as caricatures or cartoons, are demeaning to Native Americans and it is our opinion that they should not be used,” Gould stated. “We do not feel it is appropriate for our culture to be appropriated in this way, or that we should be represented in this way.”
Wednesday’s meeting, to be held in the larger Killingly High School auditorium, is set to include a presentation by the North Dakota-based Native American Guild Association, a controversial group which frequently lobbies on behalf of agencies and sports teams looking to retain their Native American mascots.
Muscara said he’s aware of that a return to the old mascot would be bucking a national trend to move away from using Native American symbols and caricatures in their logos.
“I’m hoping this is the start of a discussion, not just about the mascot, but how we handle these kinds of issues as a society,” he said.
Democrat Hoween Flexer, one of the three board members who was not up for re-election this year, said changing the mascot back would be an “embarrassment to the district.”
“Since that June meeting, students who supported the change have been afraid to speak their opinions to other students and even to their families,” she said. “There’ve been instances of racial epithets directed against student board members.”