Members of the community are gathering signatures requesting the public be allowed to vote regarding changing the Hall High School Warrior and Conard High School Chieftain names.
By Ronni Newton
The West Hartford Board of Education voted on Feb. 1 to change the nicknames of Conard and Hall, and the process is well underway at both high schools to develop new names and mascots – alternatives to the current Chieftains and Warriors – which are scheduled to be presented to the Board in mid May.
Resident Scott Zweig submitted an Op-Ed to We-Ha.com a few days ago, including with it a resolution issued by the Tribal Council of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation consenting to the respectful use of names, images, and symbols that recognize the history and culture of Native Americans, and Tuesday night he shared that resolution with the Board of Education.
“This resolution is important for several reasons,” Zweig said during the public comment session of Tuesday’s meeting. “First, it was adopted by one of the five Native American tribes recognized by the State of Connecticut, so it has unquestionable credibility. Second, West Hartford now has the written consent required by Public Act 21-2 to retain the names Warrior and Chieftain and continue to receive grant money from the Mashantucket-Pequot and Mohegan Fund. Finally, and most important, the Board of Education can now hear directly from one of Connecticut’s Native American tribes who publicly supports the continued use of Warrior and Chieftain.”
Board Chair Lorna Thomas-Farquharson said in February that the decision – which sparked emotionally charged both for and against – to revisit the nicknames was a continuation of the process that began in 2015, when the Board decided, with a unanimous vote that followed an extensive public outreach process, to maintain the Conard and Hall nicknames but remove all Native American imagery.
She said the Board opted to revisit the topic in part because of the state legislation passed last summer, as well as to align with the Board’s own recently-adopted equity policy.
Public Act 21-2, passed by the state legislature in special session during June 2021, includes the following provision: “For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023, and each fiscal year thereafter, no municipality shall be paid a grant from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund established pursuant to section 3-55i, 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.”
While a list of names that would trigger the loss of grant funding was not provided, the state’s Office of Policy Management sent municipalities a form to be completed, certifying whether or not the town has schools or teams that utilize Native American names, symbols, or images, and if they do, whether it is with consent of a state or federally recognized tribe.
In the current fiscal year, West Hartford received $27,820 in grants, and the amount is expected to remain the same for the next fiscal year.
Zweig said that due to the consent given by the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, the town would not lose its funding under the provision. He said he spoke to Chief Richard Velky of the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation on Friday, who said that the Tribal Council adopted a broad resolution allowing schools across the state, including Conard and Hall, to continue to use their names as well as imagery.
“For example, the town of Derby worked directly with Schaghticoke members to ensure that their use of the name ‘Red Raiders,’ along with their images and logos were considered respectful by the tribe,” Zweig said. “Chief Velky expressed interest in working with West Hartford to accomplish the same goal regarding our use of Warrior and Chieftain.”
According to Zweig, Velky said, “The current eradication of Native American names and images from our schools and teams is another genocide of the Native American people,” erasing their history, traditions, and contributions.
“If Native American tribal members in Connecticut tell us that they feel honored by the use of these names, and want them to continue, who are we to challenge them?” Zweig said. He urged the Board to invite Velky to speak at their April 19 meeting.
Zweig also informed the Board that a petition is being circulated requesting that residents be given the opportunity to vote on the name changes. “The team names for Hall and Conard High Schools, Hall Warriors and Conard Chieftains respectively, shall not be changed without a vote of the electors of the Town of West Hartford,” the petition states.
Organizers are hoping to obtain 3,000 signatures, which will then be presented to Town Clerk Essie Labrot for certification, and then passed along to the Town Council which will have a certain amount of time to act.
While he has been told that this is a school policy and within the purview of the Board of Education, Zweig, who is an attorney, disagrees. “It’s a matter for the Town Council because it is a matter of town-wide concern and is about the process. We aren’t asking the Town Council to change the name, but to let [the electors] decide. The town charter allows petitions on any topic except those specifically excluded. This isn’t excluded, so it is permissible,” he said.
More information about the petition can be obtained by emailing [email protected].
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