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A discussion that gained headlines in the early aughts and again in 2011 looks set to return in 2020: Should Guilford High School (GHS) teams retain their name the Indians?
GHS technically doesn’t have a mascot. It has been many years since anyone has donned a costume to represent the school’s athletic teams, and the school’s logo—a letter “G” with three feathers sticking out of the back—does not feature prominently on many of the school’s athletic uniforms. Rather than call it a mascot, officials have referred to Indians as the school nickname, drawing a distinction that hasn’t always been entirely clear.
At a Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Oct. 15, board members said some parents had recently expressed concern about the Indians moniker. At least one of those parents had been invited by Superintendent Dr. Paul Freeman to join an advisory committee on the subject, according to BOE Chairman William Bloss, who said he expected “some process and some fair decision about what to do.”
The issue of possibly offensive or insensitive school mascots or traditions has been discussed locally and nationally for decades, with recent action including Killingly High School dropping its “Redmen” mascot after pressure from community members and local indigenous tribes, and Manchester High School replacing “Indians” with “Red Hawks,” following student-led activism this summer.
Following the previous public conversation in Guilford, the Indians nickname has endured.
A thread on the popular “Simply Guilford” Facebook page had accrued more than 250 comments at press time, with many pushing for a change and calling the name offensive, but many others defending it, mostly on the grounds that either the tradition of the name is too important or that its offensive nature has been exaggerated.
GHS senior Ella Stanley, a multi-sport athlete who represents Guilford in field hockey and fencing, said the question of the name’s offensiveness has come up among her peers many times, and that she has heard both views.
“It’s something I had to contemplate in my own head, I guess,” Stanley said, “because I had...conflicting views of hearing what other people had to say and their thoughts that maybe it could be offensive, but then also my own ties to it, being an athlete for so long and really having that personal tie—feeling like I am a Guilford Indian.”
It has historically been difficult to survey how the broader indigenous community thinks or feels about mascots and nicknames like “Indians.”
A representative of the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut told the Courier that native people in Connecticut held a wide variety of opinions on mascots that couldn’t necessarily be boiled down to simple binary of offensive or not offensive. Both the Nipmuc Tribe in Massachusetts and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Ledyard, Connecticut lobbied for the recent mascot changes in Manchester and Killingly, according to multiple news reports.
How Guilford’s student body feels about the name is another subject that has not been explored fully. Stanley said that personally, even if she wasn’t entirely able to see the offensiveness of the name, she wanted to listen to native groups on the subject.
“I would not feel comfortable standing up and saying, ‘No, we have the right to make your culture our mascot,’” she said.
Stanley said she has not spoken to or heard directly from any indigenous person or group on the subject, though she would welcome the opportunity.
Cooper and Tim King, two Guilford 8th graders who said they hoped to play lacrosse at GHS next year, said they thought the mascot was “racist” and would be happy to see a name change.
“I just don’t think the name represents the school accurately,” said Tim King.
King also said he would happily give up any GHS Indians-related clothing or memorabilia, and that he thought the Indians name originated in a time when the school “wasn’t as open and diverse as it is now.”
Cooper King referenced the recent incident where a GHS student wore blackface to a football game against a Hartford area school with a much more diverse population as a reason why the Indians name should be retired.
“You’re going to appear and look racist,” he said.
At press time, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Freeman had not returned a request for comment.
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