In 2005, the NCAA decided to remove harmful “Indian” mascots from sports teams, and since 1965, no professional sports franchise has established a new mascot based on Native American stereotypes. “Specifically, rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuate negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contributes to a disregard for the personhood of Natives peoples.”xviii
In May 2019, Governor Janet Mills (Maine) signed a bill that banned high schools and colleges from using Native American symbols as a nickname, mascot or logo: Maine is the first state in the country to pass such landmark Civil Rights legislation. Representative Benjamin Collings sponsored the statute and is delighted that the bill became law.
“While Indian mascots were often originally chosen to recognize and honor a school’s unique connection to Native American communities in Maine, we have heard clearly and unequivocally from Maine tribes that they are a source of pain and anguish,” said Governor Mills stated. “A mascot is a symbol of pride, but it is not the source of pride. Our people, communities, and understanding and respect for one another are Maine’s source of pride and it is time our symbols reflect that.”xix
Unfortunately, legitimized racism is not limited to professional and college teams. Many local communities have also named their high schools after racial stereotypes of Native Americans. In Connecticut, there are over 20 high schools with Native American nicknames (Canton Warriors, Farmington Indians, Glastonbury Tomahawks Killingly Redmen, Nonnewaug Warriors, RHAM Sachems, etc.) and mascots.
I live in New Haven, CT, and next door in North Haven, residents have debated and quarreled over the Indian nickname and mascot. In 2015, opponents of the high school’s nickname posted a petition and believe it is offensive and belittling of Indigenous people. “…take a stand and change the old and disrespectful ways people think about race.”xx At a North Haven Board of Education meeting in March of 2015, Talia Gallager, Class of 2013, spoke up against the use of Indians as a moniker and requested that the mascot be changed.
Of course, some members of the community did not agree with Gallager. Supporters of the North Haven Indians started an on-line petition on Facebook. Michael Parisi, also a Class of 2013 graduate, supported the mascot and history behind its symbolism. “Here, every time we go out and play, we are honoring them,” Parisi stated.xxi Why is legitimized racism so engrained in our local communities? All across the country, local school districts have grappled with the same questions as North Haven, CT.