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Officials Called ‘Redmen’ a Racist Mascot. Then Voters Weighed In.

by ace
Officials Called ‘Redmen’ a Racist Mascot. Then Voters Weighed In.

In July, the school board of a small Connecticut town called Killingly took what local authorities said was a long overdue step: removing the name of the school mascot, Redmen, which some Native Americans considered racist.

The students did not seem to rebel against the change, even though they agreed in the fall to adopt a new name, the Redhawks.

But then the adults gave their opinion.

Residents, apparently irritated by the removal of the Redmen mascot, attended the polls in November and gave Republicans control of the city council and school board.

The new school board voted quickly to terminate the name of the Redhawks. And this week, at a contentious five-hour meeting, the council voted 5-4 to reinstate the Redmen, who became the school's mascot in 1939.

The board rejected applications from Native American students, administrators, and residents. No electorate favored the name Redmen, people at the meeting said.

"The people of Killingly spoke on election day what they wanted," Jason Muscara, one of the new Republican council members who voted to reinstate Redmen, said in an interview.

"I recognize that many Native Americans have expressed these concerns," he said. "But I would say there are an equal amount of natives who feel the opposite."

Still, the decision provoked a backlash from some students and staff from Killingly, which is in the northeast of the state and has a population of about 17,000.

More than a partisan division, the Redmen debate also highlighted a disconnect between generations. On one side were the old guard students, immersed in notions of history and legacy. On the other hand, are the students of generation Z, created at a time of greater sensitivity and cultural inclusion.

"We look racist," said Soudalath Souvanhnathan, a student at Killingly High School. “This is not what I want our school to be known for. And all because people don't want to abandon tradition. That made Killingly a joke.

Hoween Flexer, a Democratic member of the Killingly School Board, said: "The students, teachers and Native Americans told us what they wanted us not to do, and we did it anyway."

The move was an unusual turnaround in the decades-long campaign by some Native American groups and their supporters to pressure school and government officials and sports teams to end the use of Native American names and images for pets.

In May, Maine banned the use of Native American mascots in its public schools and colleges. Similar measures were taken in California, Massachusetts and Oregon.

The topic has been a point of debate in professional sports leagues. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to rename the team, provoking considerable anger.

On the other hand, last year, the Cleveland Indians announced that it would no longer wear images of Chief Wahoo, a cartoon caricature of a Native American, in his uniforms.

Tara Houska, a Native American lawyer and co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a advocacy group fighting the stereotypical representation of Native Americans in the sport, said she was surprised by the change in Killingly.

"This is the first time I have encountered a situation where a school board, a school and alumni talk, get to a point, adopt a new pet, and then step back," Houska said. "Basically, they said, 'Yes, we know it's racist and offensive, but we're actually going back to that because we like it better.'

Still, Raymond Wood II, a native American and former Republican city councilman, said he supported the name Redmen.

"It was never racist or derogatory against Native Americans," Wood said.

He said Killingly's use of Redmen highlighted the best in town – and in the United States in general.

"This is a cauldron," he said. "We took the best and incorporated it into our culture. That's what Killingly did. They took something that is honorable and respectful and celebrated it."

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