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Start mascot discussion at the local level

Beware of one-size-fits-all solutions.

State House of Representatives Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, is raising the idea that the state legislature prohibit public schools from using Native American imagery, mascots and nicknames. Nineteen now do so. The House leader was reacting to the Board of Education in Killingly restoring the name Redmen at its high school.

Redmen has the dual detriments of being offensive to Native Americans and sexist. Last year, encouraged by students, the Killingly school board abandoned the nickname in favor of Redhawks. But a group of candidates, who ran on a promise to bring back Redmen, won election in November.

In the trend away from mascots that feed Native American stereotypes, and are a form of cultural appropriation, the move in Killingly to switch back may be a first.

Aresimowicz suggestion is understandable. Maine, California, Massachusetts and Oregon have passed various bans on American Indian mascots in public schools and colleges.

Yet such a move in the legislature would make the debate more political, further tugging it into the cultural wars. What happened in Killingly appears to be an aberration. Let discussions play out at the local level.

The Montville High School Indians have had a positive relationship with the Mohegan Tribe, which has a deep history in the area. A few years ago, a tasteful school symbol was adopted with two feathers hanging from a circled “M.”

“The term ‘Indians’ in and of itself is not a derogatory or inflammatory. In this instance it is simply recognition of the first inhabitants of the land,” stated Mohegan Chief Marilynn Malerba in an email response to The Day.

Yet, in the same response, Malerba stated, “It is the position of the Mohegan Tribe that the use of American Indian mascots and … teams be discontinued.”

“People should not be considered mascots. It is demeaning to be relegated to a stereotyping of a people,” she stated.

The chief referred to a tradition of open dialogue between the tribe and school officials. Montville Schools Superintendent Laurie Pallin said she is prepared to reopen that discussion.

Preferably this is how it happens elsewhere. Communities show greater sensitivity to the issue. Students, teachers, administrators, school board members welcome the input of our state’s tribes in deciding what is acceptable and what should change.

It may come to state intervention; but first provide our local communities the chance to hash things out.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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