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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 Members of the West Hartford Board of Education,
As West Hartford residents and parents/caregivers to many children across West Hartford Public Schools, we write today to urge you to remove the current team names for Hall and Conard High Schools. For the past several 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 imagery in 2015, it is time to remove the Chieftain and Warrior team names and replace them with new names not associated with Native/Indigenous peoples.
This is especially critical now given the district’s implementation of Social Emotional Learning curriculum and recent adoption of its Equity in Education policy. Additionally, the risk to funding to the District as well as the District’s reputation and role as a leader in the State should be strongly taken into consideration.
Multiple groups, including local indigenous tribal members and nations, have already publicly called for Connecticut high schools to stop using Native imagery and names. As you might recall, in 2015 the Clan Mother of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe of Trumbull contacted the BOE to retire the West Hartford native mascots. More recent examples can be found in Glastonbury, Manchester, Guilford, Farmington, North Haven and other local communities, all having indigenous tribal members and nations calling for the retirement of these images and names. Additionally, the National Congress of American Indians holds that “rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples.” CHRO, the state human rights agency, has called for the end of indigenous mascot images and names in the wake of the decision by the state legislature to cease allocation of tribal money to municipalities who use indigenous images or names as their mascots.
Most Americans remain unaware of Native histories and cultures, viewing Natives as extinct and frozen which is tantamount, as described by Native Echo Hawk, “a modern form of racism against Native people.” Replacing the Chieftain and Warrior names is just one step toward honoring Native Americans in our community.
Throughout these discussions, you have undoubtedly heard the feeble and faulty argument that the words “Chieftain” and “Warrior” are applicable to European and other cultures, not just Native cultures. However, context matters. We are in the United States where those words are most strongly associated with Native Americans.
You will hear about “pride” and “school spirit” and the “history” that some associate with these team names. This ignores and white-washes the pride, spirit and infinitely longer history of the Native peoples who lived here. These are peoples whose land was usurped by settlers and whose tribal members have been abused throughout history. While we cannot fully make reparations for 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 does not mean it is right, and that we can change things for the better.
We urge you to not delay making the right decision any longer. It is incumbent on you as leaders to once and for all remove these problematic and disrespectful team names.
Thank you for your time.
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 stewarded this land through the 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 Connecticut Human Rights Partnership Steering Committee for resources and references.
The purpose 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 take action on equity initiatives for systemic change that will ensure all children have the opportunities for educational success. In 2017, the first parent-led, school-based Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion group was established. Since then, other EDI groups have been established at almost all public schools in West Hartford.