Forum dissects use of Native American mascots in West Hartford

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WEST HARTFORD — It’s the eve of what could be a history-changing decision at Conard High School: Board of Education members are expected to officially nix the school’s mascot, the Chieftan, at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.

Essentially, the logo is no-go, but the Chieftan name will remain, a move Native American Christopher Newell calls “interesting.”

“The fact that we’re having this conversation really shows we’re on the path to moving forward,” said Newell, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe.

Negative experiences with what Newell calls “Native mascotry” brought him to a forum at West Hartford’s Noah Webster House on Tuesday. He told the crowd of about three dozen that it’s not necessarily Native American mascots that are offensive, it’s the way some people respond to them.

“You can’t control what the other teams do or what fans on the other teams do,” Newell said, pointing to Red Face, tomahawk chops and war chants seen at sports games across the United States.

“These are the images that the American public sees and unfortunately many of them are based on sometimes negative, but also even positive stereotypes —  but they’re stereotypes nonetheless,” Newell said.

By some estimates, well over 2,000 schools across the country still use Native American-related imagery, but community advocates at the forum are encouraged by a recent trend.

“I think the more and more people hear about this and the more they understand associations in history with Native mascots and Native Americans as people and you know, as citizens, and not just images, I think moving forward, it’s going to be interesting,” said Laura Lamarre, executive director of Connecticut’s American Indian Institute.

Wednesday night the West Hartford Board of Education members will cast their final votes to rid mascots at both Conard High School and Hall High School (the Warriors). They are expected to pass a motion to make a committee to develop new Chieftan and Warrior logos by June 15.

Newell said he’ll pay close attention to the district over the next few months.

“I want people to become more educated about Native Americans and to see us as people, not as caricatures,” he said.