NORTH HAVEN — With controversy stirring again over the high school’s mascot, the Board of Education is taking up the issue for the second time.
North Haven High School uses an image of a Native American wearing a feathered headdress and the “Indians” moniker for its sports teams. But the school board has planned a special meeting next month to gather input and potentially remove the image and name.
“While it has always been the intent to honor our Native American history with the school mascot, the North Haven Board of Education sees it as a moral imperative to undergo a thorough review to determine whether or not our mascot continues to align with our vision, core mission, and obligations under state law,” the board said in a statement.
Three petitions are circulating on Change.org related to the sports teams’ name — two in favor of renaming with a combined signature count of more than 3,000 and one against the renaming with around 1,700 signatures.
The board plans to hold a special meeting August 6 via Zoom to hear input from the community, students and alumni. Then the board will vote on the matter the following week. A time and meeting link have yet to be announced.
“The Board of Education recognizes that many have a deep connection to the current Indian mascot, and we also recognize that many find it deeply offensive. We are committed to dialogue and transparency in the decision-making process, and we realize that as people process their feelings on the topic, that many questions may arise.”
Controversy over the name and logo aren’t new. The board five years ago discussed changing the name, but people spoke passionately about preserving it as a way to honor the town’s history.
A petition circulated at the time, seeking to keep the name, garnered more than 2,100 signatures and the name stayed.
A renewed push to change the mascot has gained visibility as North Haven students, alumni and others accuse the district of appropriating Indigenous culture.
Student Sara McCarthy said in her petition to abolish the use of the mascot that the name and depiction is “derogatory towards Native American culture.”
McCarthy said a culture isn’t a mascot and shouldn’t be used as a costume to wear at football games.
“The North Haven Board of Education is proud of our school district for being one that is committed to consistently becoming more firmly rooted in kindness, compassion, safety, equity and tolerance,” the board said. “In light of recent events around our country, and feedback from our students, alumni and our local community, we believe it is time to engage in a review and reflection on some of our current practices.”
Students, NHHS alumni and others recently organized a demonstration at the high school to draw attention to racism and discrimination in the school system, as well as the ways the current mascot is harmful.
However, some in North Haven argue the school emblem honors the history of Indigenous people who lived on land that now is North Haven.
Dutch explorers who arrived in the 17th century on the land that’s now North Haven encountered Indigenous people who had settled there, the Quinnipiac, who had inhabited what is now called the Quinnipiac River watershed.
It’s estimated possibly more than 4,000 Indigenous men, women, and children lived within Quinnipiac homelands in the early 17th century.
After New Haven was settled in 1648, colonization and land acquisition reached what is now North Haven, East Haven and other settlements along the Quinnipiac River, pushing Indigenous people onto reservations.
Students have argued the town could honor Indigenous people of the area by incorporating their history into school curriculum and establishing a monument for remembrance.
“Regardless of whether or not the mascot changes, the Board of Education is discussing how to best incorporate local history into our curriculum, and that materials are derived from a variety of sources and represent multiple perspectives,” the board said in its statement.
The Guilford Board of Education recently voted unanimously to immediately discontinue Guilford High School’s “Indians” emblem, after more than a hundred students, former students and parents sent statements to the district saying its use was offensive and harmful to Native Americans.
“It has become unavoidably obvious as we think about this moniker moving forward that the reality, and the offense that is delivered or perceived through such a moniker, is substantially more important than the intention that exists behind that moniker,” Guilford Superintendent of School Paul Freeman said at the time.
Connecticut still has 16 school districts that use Native American cultures or imagery as school mascots or team names, including Woodbury, Derby and Meriden.
Some of those schools have nicknames such as “Indians,” “Sachems” and “Tomahawks.”
In January, the Killingly Board of Education voted to reinstate its mascot, the “Redmen,” despite local Native American groups calling it offensive. The board has not revisited its decision since then, according to the Norwich Bulletin.
North Haven’s current mascot originated in the 1950s and used depictions of Indigenous people wearing feather headdresses, totems, and tomahawks through the 1970s in the yearbook the “Sachem” — a Native American term for a leader or chief.
The board said if the mascot is changed, the decision wouldn’t extend to altering “archival or historical materials such as trophies, championship banners, or class gifts in the Middle School and High School campuses. These would remain as part of our school district’s history.”
“The goal of any change would not be to erase history; rather, it would be to grow in a new direction,” the school board said.
Since 2015, the mascot has not been represented on any new uniforms, according to the board, but if they were to change the emblem, several teams immediately would need new uniforms.
The board has reached out to local tribal nations regarding this issue and consulted with legal counsel on the BOE’s responsibilities on the mascot issue, they said.
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