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Movement To Change Manchester High Mascot

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Movement To Change Manchester High Mascot

Photo: Harbinger Staff

Photo: Harbinger Staff

Photo: Harbinger Staff

Aislinn Gara Grady, Staff Writer

Do you find our school’s nickname and mascot —  the Indians — offensive?

Some of our students do and they are committed to seeing a change at Manchester High School.

For a year, the Student Activist Group has maintained a conversation about the ethics of our mascot, raising the question of whether change needs to be implemented. In the spring of 2018, the group sent out a survey to the student body asking if they thought our mascot was insensitive or racist to Native American cultures while also asking for suggestions for a possible new mascot.

Results showed that only a small portion of students were passionate about whether they thought it was insensitive, with the majority showing indifference on the subject. But the issue is a drawing interest this year as more students have offered opinions in the topic while student-athlete and activist group member Elliot McDonald-Hall has presented a petition for a new mascot. 

So with more attention on the mascot, change could be considered soon. Manchester High has used the Indian name since 1949, and remains one of 26 high schools in Connecticut with a Native American-related nickname and mascot.

There are many other representations of Indian mascots in surrounding towns such West Hartford, Glastonbury, Farmington, Windsor and Newington. Other schools have changed their mascots in the past — Northwest Catholic went from Indians to Lions just three years ago — but others have stayed true to their original branding name.

Within MHS, there has not been much movement to implement change. But after current superintendent Matt Geary became principal in 2012, the image of the mascot was de-emphasized, removing the Indian caricature from the school’s logos and sports apparel.

This has continued, with apparel and other school items decorated in an ‘M’ emblem instead of the traditional caricature. Sometimes the ‘M’ pictured with a symbolic feather, a reference to the old mascot.

 

But Principal Katelyn Miner told Harbinger that the changes have left Manchester High  “mascot-less,” with no strong connection to the nickname or mascot.

Not only is Miner the principal and a former teacher at MHS, but she was also a student at the school as well as a parent to children who attend the high school now. Asked her opinion on whether she believed our mascot is insensitive,  she firmly said, “I do.”

She also said the mascot served as a “caricature of a group of people” and since it is used as a mascot it tends to speak to the perception that they might have been aggressive, which is “an unfair characterization of an entire group of people. ”

How was the mascot perceived when Miner was a student in the late 1980s and early 1990s?

“I don’t really remember much conversation about it then,” Miner said. “I was in high school more than 25 years ago.  It was kind of a different time, there was a different level of understanding and awareness about race and oppressed groups. So no, I don’t really remember it being an issue … there hadn’t really been a resurgence of [Native American activism].”

Former student and current teacher Kassandra Holder, who graduated in 2010, had a similar experience — at the time she attended MHS,  she thought nothing was wrong with the mascot.  But like Miner, she felt that the culture has changed in recent years.

“Time for a new mascot,”  Holder told the Harbinger. “Kids can connect to mascots and [mascots] can bring them together in the community. Currently we do not have a tangible mascot.  The Indian [logo] is being bashed when seen and is not displayed around the school.”

History of Insensitivity

The term ‘Indian,’ when used while speaking about Native Americans, is often seen as a derogatory term.

It was first coined by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Because of misunderstanding that he had sailed to India, not America, he described the people he encountered as Indians. Although later, his discovery was proven wrong —  that he had actually discovered America, not India — the term changed to American Indian.

But since this name is tied to the ignorance of Columbus, it has grown to become a term that no longer is deemed acceptable. Along with the way that our Native people have been oppressed for centuries by the outsiders who infiltrated their homeland as well as using the Native culture as a caricature for modern-day entertainment, people have come to believe the usage of this phrase is simply the incorrect way to address a population of people, especially as team names or school mascots.

Mascots are typically something recognized for brute force, and are figures that their followers — a school body, fans, etc. —  can use to demean their opponent. While placing an entire culture not only under an offensive and outdated name and associating it with this connotation, the message communicated, even indirectly, could correlate a group of people with animal-like inhumanity.

This can be detrimental and blatantly offensive to Native American people by wrongfully characterizing them as creatures and research show it can even tear down the ability for Native Americans to see themselves in a higher and equal standard while comparing themselves to their non-Native counterparts.

Studies conducted by researchers at Stanford, the University of Arizona and the University Of Michigan show the negative psychological impact on Native Americans from the usage by high schools and colleges.  One study states, “that American Indian mascots are harmful because they remind American Indians of the limited ways others see them and, in this way, constrain how they can see themselves.”

Cultural Appropriation

Indian themed mascots can be found across our country, appearing in high schools like MHS, as well as professional teams such the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks.

The names incite fans to show up to games and rallies in headdresses, sporting red face, and traditional native dress, even if they were not of native descent. Although this practice of imitating Native American culture has since been looked down upon, the issue of cultural appropriation remains common.

Even in Manchester High’s earlier years, students dressed at Native American marched during a sesquicentennial parade. Alumnus Bob Kanehl recently wrote in the Journal Inquirer that the use of Indian at MHS began in 1949 and that his father, a 1945 graduate called himself a “red man.”

In the 1980s, students dressed as Native Americans.  But the practice has faded as the mascot and nickname have been pushed aside.

What’s Next

Will MHS adopt a new mascot? There are steps required to make such a change, but the Student Activist Group is trying to build momentum.

The group will be seeking signatures on a petition this week (April 30 to May 3).  By signing, students can participate in the movement.

Mr. Geary told The Harbinger that students would need to bring a proposal to the Board of Education for consideration.  There is a possibility the Board may open the debate for public comment, which could draw alumni to the discussion.

Alumni have often opposed such moves when other schools have changed mascots. When West Hartford high schools — the Hall Warriors and Conard Chieftains — debated a change and eventually changed logos in 2015, students and many alumni resisted.

A 2015 Harbinger story about the Manchester High’s mascot found many graduates opposed a change.

The MHS group seeking a change will hold a forum for students and alumni.

How do  you feel about a potential change? Contact the Harbinger Team at [email protected] to express your views and perhaps offer an alternative nickname.

For information on the Student Activist Group, contact faculty organizer Jacob Skrzypiec at [email protected].

 

Jaime Lopez and Gianna Burti  contributed to this story

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1 Comment

One Response to “Movement To Change Manchester High Mascot”

  1. Ashley on May 1st, 2019 11:52 am

    Anything, literally anything would be better than the Manchester Indians. It is racist and disrespectful

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