Letter: West Hartford Parent Community Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Groups Strongly Support Mascot Name Change – We-Ha

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Editor’s note: This letter to the West Hartford Board of Education was submitted to We-Ha.com as a press release

Dear West Hartford School Board Members,

As residents of West Hartford and parents/guardians of many West Hartford public school children, we are writing to you today asking that you remove the current Hall and Conard High School team names. Over the past few years, many members of our community have been actively engaged in amplifying the voices of Native Americans in Connecticut and nationally. While the BOE removed the mascot image in 2015, it’s time to remove the Chieftain and Warrior team names and replace them with new names not associated with Indigenous peoples.

This is especially critical now given the district’s implementation of the Social-Emotional Learning Program and the recent adoption of its Education Equity Policy. In addition, the District’s funding risk and the District’s reputation and role as a leader in the state must be strongly considered.

Several groups, including local Native and Nation tribal members, have already publicly called on Connecticut high schools to stop using Native images and names. As you may recall, in 2015 the Clan Mother of the Golden Hill Tribe Paugussett of Trumbull contacted the BOE to remove native mascots from West Hartford. More recent examples can be found in Glastonbury, Manchester, Guilford, Farmington, North Haven and other local communities, all of which have indigenous tribal members and nations calling for the removal of these images and names. Additionally, the National Congress of American Indians argues that “rather than honoring Indigenous peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of the original peoples of America, and contribute to the disregard for the personality of Indigenous peoples. “. CHRO, the national human rights agency, has called for an end to indigenous mascot images and names following the state legislature’s decision to stop allocating tribal money to municipalities that use indigenous images or names as mascots.

Most Americans are still unaware of Native histories and cultures, viewing Native people as extinct and fixed, which amounts, as Native Echo Hawk describes it, to “a modern form of anti-Native racism.” Replacing the Chief and Warrior names is just one step toward honoring Native Americans in our community.

Throughout these discussions, you’ve no doubt heard the weak and misguided argument that the words “leader” and “warrior” apply to European and other cultures, not just Indigenous cultures. However, context matters. We are in the United States where these words are most strongly associated with Native Americans.

You’ll hear about the ‘pride’, ‘school spirit’ and ‘history’ that some associate with these team names. It ignores and whitewashes the pride, spirit and infinitely longer history of the indigenous people who lived here. These are peoples whose lands have been usurped by settlers and whose tribal members have been mistreated throughout history. While we can’t entirely right these wrongs, we can remove these disrespectful and problematic names. We can teach our children to respect cultures. We can teach them that just because something has been a certain way for a while doesn’t mean it’s right, and that we can change things for the better.

We urge you to make the right decision now. It is incumbent upon you as leaders to remove these problematic and disrespectful team names once and for all.

Thank you for your time.

Truly,

West Hartford Parent Community Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Groups

West Hartford occupies the homelands of the Siacogs, Poquonocks and Tunxis, as well as other indigenous peoples, who have ruled these lands through generations. Connecticut also occupies the homelands of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape peoples.

With thanks to Judy Wyman of the Connecticut Human Rights Partnership Steering Committee for resources and references.

The goal of the West Hartford Parent Community EDI Groups is to create a collaborative space for parents, educators, and community members to come together to listen, learn, and act on equity initiatives for a systemic change that will ensure all children have the opportunity to succeed in school. In 2017, the first parent-led Equity, Diversity and Inclusion school group was created. Since then, other EDI groups have been created in nearly every public school in West Hartford.

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