Montville Board of Education delays decision on 'Indians' name until March 14
Montville — The "Indians" nickname for the middle and high schools will stick around a little longer after the Board of Education on Wednesday night could not reach a decision on whether or not to continue its use.
The board is faced with making the decision after a budget law passed last summer would allow $1.4 million in funding to be withheld from the schools for the use of a Native American-related name as soon as June 2023.
According to the law, "no municipality shall be paid a grant from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund ... if a school under the jurisdiction of the board of education for such municipality, or an intramural or interscholastic athletic team associated with such school, uses any name, symbol or image that depicts, refers to or is associated with a state or federally recognized Native American tribe or a Native American individual, custom or tradition, as a mascot, nickname, logo or team name."
The law states cities and towns have until June 2024 to inform the state Office of Policy and Management of intent to change the names and mascots, or get written permission from tribes to keep them. Superintendent Laurie Pallin, however, said the board had to submit a certification form about its plans to the state's manager of intergovernmental affairs by March 15.
The Board of Education did not receive a letter of consent from the Mohegan Tribe, Pallin said at Wednesday's meeting at the high school library. She said she, the mayor and the tribe have held conversations about the matter for years.
"In our conversations we are all in agreement that the value between the town, the schools and the tribe is much more important than the use of a nickname," Pallin said. "And we all agree that we don't want the use of the Indian nickname to be a polarizing issue between the town and the tribe."
Pallin added she also recognized the use of the Indian nickname is not a Montville-specific decision but has a larger national impact. She said the schools would continue to have the tribe's partnership and support, such as helping the district with the costs to change the name.
Pallin, in accordance with the school district administration, recommended the schools discontinue the use of the nickname and refer to themselves only as "Montville." She said there may come a time in the future when they can consider a different nickname.
Also in attendance at the meeting, Mayor Ron McDaniel agreed with Pallin's statement and said the town has a valuable relationship with the tribe and wishes to continue that.
But some of the board members and people in the small audience objected to the decision, stating there were tribal members in support of keeping the name.
Resident Jarell Roberts said he grew up in Montville, graduated from Montville High School and is known as a Montville Indian. He asked the local tribes to reconsider allowing the schools to continue using the name. "I think it's going too far to take back something that started when the school was built in 1963 and to do it because of the dollar value put onto it," he said.
Another resident, Lauren Terni, rose and said she had a message from her grandmother, who is a Mohegan Indian. She said her grandmother takes great pride in the knowledge that her heritage is represented at both Tyl Middle School and the high school with the use of the name "Indians."
"The use of the word Indians isn't used in a derogatory manner but is meant to conjure an image of the best qualities we can ask of our young adults," she said. "Its use has come to signal honor, bravery, resilience, strength."
Terni, who is not a tribal member, said family and members of the tribe agree with this sentiment but have not been asked to a meeting by the tribal council. She asked the board to hold off on making a decision.
Board of Education Chairman Wills Pike said this was a difficult decision and not one that anyone wants to make, but the state is mandating it. He said the board could go through with keeping the name and lose money but it's not about the money, it's about the relationship with the tribe.
Pallin said the board could ask for a grace period when filling out the form due March 15, but she reiterated that conversations on the matter have been ongoing for three years and she did not know what another week or so could do.
Pike and McDaniel agreed with Pallin that they were not in favor of seeking an extension. McDaniel said he was told by Mohegan Chief Lynn Malerba of there being "numerous talking circles" to get input from tribe members.
The Mohegan Tribe could not be reached to comment Thursday.
Board members Timothy Shanahan and Jim Wood said they had seen social media posts from tribal members who supported the school's use of the Indian name. Wood said he was in favor of seeking an extension.
Pike said the board did not have the ability to push the issue with the tribe, they had to do it themselves. He suggested the board hold off making a decision and see if there is any change from the tribe, although it is unlikely.
After a long discussion, a majority of the board motioned to reconvene on March 14, the day before the deadline, and postpone making a decision until then.
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