Connecticut School Board Reinstates Mascot Offensive To Native Americans

Feb 4, 2020
Originally published on February 4, 2020 8:04 pm
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Like many schools in the U.S., Killingly High School in Connecticut replaced its Native American mascot. They started this school year as the Redhawks. Now they're going back to the Redmen. Frankie Graziano of Connecticut Public Radio has the story.

FRANKIE GRAZIANO, BYLINE: Jessica Long is a sophomore at Killingly. She's not happy that athletes at her school will still be known as Redmen and Redgals, the nickname for Killingly girls teams.

JESSICA LONG: I'm even, like, embarrassed that I have Redmen on my gym floor right now.

GRAZIANO: She's talking about a large decal stuck onto the hardwood at the Killingly High School gym.

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GRAZIANO: The decals wouldn't be on the court had the school board gone through with a plan to replace the mascots. Killingly school board voted last summer to replace Redmen on the recommendation of a tribe indigenous to the area. The student body then chose a new name. They wanted to be called the Redhawks. But by early January, the board had new members on it, and those new members wanted Redmen restored. They reversed the decision.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The motion passes 5-4.

GRAZIANO: Norm Ferron represents one of the "yes" votes. He was so frustrated over the previous decision to get rid of the mascot that he ran for a school board seat last fall.

NORM FERRON: I felt like the whole thing was rushed, and a lot of misinformation was put out. And a lot of emotional knee-jerk reactions were looked at instead of basically looking at the facts.

GRAZIANO: He believes the mascot honors Native Americans. But a local tribe called the Nipmuc Nation has told the board that any logo or nickname intended to depict Native Americans is offensive, even if the school or team seeks to honor indigenous people. That statement from the Nipmuc Nation is what prompted the mascot change in the first place. The move was consistent with how schools were acting across the country - high schools like Menomonee Falls in Wisconsin and Teton in Idaho, who shed native mascot names.

Barbi Gardiner graduated from Killingly High almost 30 years ago. She's been outspoken about the need to ditch the mascot. She's a member of the Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmuc Indians.

BARBI GARDINER: You can't honor someone who just doesn't feel honored by that. Naming a team a skin color in 2020 is just ridiculous, really.

GRAZIANO: Back on the court at the Connecticut high school, Justin Maiato says he's one student that never wanted a name change.

JUSTIN MAIATO: I think it should stay as the Redmen 'cause, you know, since I was born, this place has been the Redmen. It's been the Redmen family, and it shouldn't change.

GRAZIANO: Now that Redmen is back, 15-year-old Jessica Long is worried she'll be forced to wear something with that name on it in the spring. She plays tennis. She's got Redgal sweatshirts from last year that she won't wear.

JESSICA: I'm embarrassed to wear them outside of my house to school or anything like that because I don't want to represent that.

GRAZIANO: Long says she's writing a letter to state lawmakers urging them to ban Native American mascots, something the state of Maine did last May. Connecticut's speaker of the House has said he'd be interested in such a measure.

For NPR News, I'm Frankie Graziano in Hartford, Conn.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.