- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2020

An American Indian tribe in Connecticut says the “Indians” mascot employed by a local high school — after years of blessing the name — is offensive and needs to go.

The announcement by the Mohegan Tribe of southeastern Connecticut concerns the mascot for Montville High School, whose athletic teams have used the “Indians” name for generations and even received charitable donations from the tribe.

But the name has been swept up in a debate about indigenous mascots that has reignited across New England.

Last year, Maine banned mascots at public schools. This month in Killingly, Connecticut, a newly elected school board voted to reinstate the “Redmen” mascot, which was thrown out by the previous school board in July.

And last week, Connecticut’s House speaker told The Courant newspaper in Harford that he wants a bill to ban American Indian imagery and names at all public schools. (Nineteen schools in Connecticut still use American Indian names or images. Many tribal leaders across the country have declared such iconography offensive.)

The case for removing Montville High’s “Indians” mascot — whose image features two feathers and an orange “M” inside a white circle — came in a statement by Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba to a local newspaper.

“While the stated intent may be to ‘honor’ American Indians, there is a great potential for less than respectful behaviors to occur in conjunction with these mascots,” Ms. Malerba wrote in The Day in New London, Connecticut.

Her concern for sports fans trivializing or ridiculing American Indians out of sporting camaraderie is widely shared.

Last year, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians announced it no longer would use its smiling Chief Wahoo image, which many American Indian advocates said was a derogatory image.

In 2015, the University of North Dakota began using “The Fighting Hawks” as its mascot after the Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux tribes objected to the school’s iconic mascot, “The Fighting Sioux.”

In July, the school board for Teton High School in Driggs, Idaho, dropped its “Redskins” name, decried as offensive by the state’s two largest tribes — the Shoshone-Bannock and Nez Perc.

Montville town officials said they were caught off-guard by the Mohegans’ announcement, pointing to years of support for the school’s Indians athletics programs — including donation of a $3,000 concession stand and use of a skybox.

“It’s never been a contentious issue,” said Colleen Rix, a Republican town councilor and 2000 graduate of Montville High School. “I did go to school with several tribal members. It was never this clash between them and us. We were all there and it was, ‘Oh, he’s a tribal member, that’s cool.’”

Montville Mayor Ronald McDaniel, a Democrat, says he does not find the image “personally” offensive.

Critics say even the word “Indian” — derived from Christopher Columbus’ false understanding that he had arrived in Asia — is a historical misnomer.

“[P]eople should not be considered mascots,” Ms. Malerba wrote, adding that she was speaking the Mohegan tribal council, elders council and medicine women. “This should not be allowed to continue.”

The American Indian mascot imbroglio will go national this week: Sunday’s Super Bowl features the Kansas City Chiefs, whose fans are known to don tribal apparel and imitate a “tomahawk chop” with celebratory hand gestures.

Vincent Schilling, associate editor at Indian Country Today and member of the St. Regis Mohawk tribe, told The Washington Post that “hundreds of millions of people” will view what he considers a “disrespect and disregard for Native culture” in the National Football League’s big game.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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