Connecticut schools that still use Native American nicknames and mascots could take a financial hit if they continue to use those images without written consent from a state- or federally-recognized tribe in their region, according to a provision tucked into a massive budget implementation bill that's up for a vote on Monday.
Municipalities face the prospect of losing their allotment of revenue from the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Fund, an account that's funded with the state's 25 percent share of slot machine revenues generated at the two casinos owned and operated by the federally recognized Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Tribes.
The provision was included in the budget bill by state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, the co-chairman of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee.
“Towns around this state have been told year after year by Connecticut's Native American tribes that their nicknames and mascots are horribly offensive,”' Osten said in a written statement. “If certain cities and towns won't listen to their fellow citizens, then they can certainly do without the tribal money that they are showing such disrespect toward.”
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It's estimated that about a dozen schools in Connecticut still use Native American names or images. Some communities have already changed the names of their athletic teams in light of the racial reckoning that has been taking place in the U.S. For example, the Manchester Indians became the Red Hawks in 2019 following a months-long campaign by students who said the mascot was a stereotype they could not support.
In Killingly, the school board voted in 2019 to change the name Redmen to the Red Hawks as well, at the behest of students, faculty and local tribal representatives. But the move was reversed months later after a slate of Republican candidates, who ran on the issue of restoring the name to honor a long-standing tradition, won a supermajority. The decision received national media attention.
“This is the first I'm hearing about this,” said Killingly Town Council Chairman Jason Anderson, a Republican.
Killingly was scheduled to receive more than $94,000 from the grant fund in the current fiscal year, which ends July 1.
Under the provision tucked into the 837-page budget bill, the funding will be withheld beginning in the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2022. That is if schools or intramural or interscholastic athletic teams associated with the school don't change “any name, symbol or image that depicts, refers to or is associated with a state or federally recognized Native American tribe or a Native American individual, custom or tradition, as a mascot, nickname, logo or team team” or receive permission to use it.
Most of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns receive a grant from the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Fund, with extra money earmarked for communities located near the tribes' Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casinos. The amounts are based on a formula that involves a number of factors, including the value of untaxable property within the community.
Payments are made three times a year and can total as much as $5 million or more for the larger cities.
“As a distressed municipality we rely on outside funds to help support our community. We will work with all stakeholders to do what is in the best interest of the community while recognizing and respecting our tribal nations and their history," explained Dr. Matthew J. Conway, Jr, superintendent at Derby Public Schools, where the current mascot is the Red Raiders.
According to North Have First Selectman Michael Freda, the town council has already approved a budget that incorporates the $88,000 that the town receives from the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan fund.
He issued the following statement to NBC Connecticut: “I respect the legalities in this case, the Board of Education has the legal right as it relates to the designation related to the schools.”
North Haven's Board of Education is currently considering whether to retire the current mascot, the Indians, or to keep it. They will meet on July 8.