Skip to main content

How You Can Help: One Girl's Drive to Force a Town to Drop Racist Mascot

How can we help in an effort to change the mascot of a North Haven (Conn.) high school away from the “Indians”? An alumnus, Talia Gallagher, who is now a student at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. started a petition campaign to change the name. She’s going to present it to the local Board of Education in March. The details are at this Facebook page.

Word got out and there have been a number of reports in the media and inevitably opposition. Here’s an entry in an opposing Facebook page called “North Haven Indians Pride.”

“Where did our Indian mascot come from? It was to honor the Indians of North Haven. The indian symbol in our mascot is the look of chief Montowese who we lived with here in North Haven,” they posted. “Our Mascot is to honor the memory of the North Haven Indian tribes, not to poke fun or to discriminate. The American settlers of North Haven lived with the Indians, we worked together."

Oh yes, New Haven settlers lived with the Indians. That’s why the colony of Connecticut allowed all Quinnipiac land to be sold off as early as 1695, about 90 years before the town of North Haven was incorporated. Honor the memory of the tribes? Give me a break. Mascots are chosen to be fierce or funny or exotic. You think it would be honoring memory if a Berlin Germany soccer team was called “the Jews?”

Gallagher said she first became aware of the issue when she was a high school junior, but only decided to act after she went to college and became an activist around issues of police brutality particularly Ferguson.

I asked her how the mascot was depicted in North Haven. She said it was more or less like a stereotypical Plains Indian with a headband and several feathers. There was nothing particularly vicious in the way it was done, just unthinking. Students at games chant “tribe pride” and put on so-called “war paint.” Last year the girl who was winner of the school spirit contest was photographed wearing a full feathered headdress.

Gallagher’s petition states the simple truth: “Towns and cities all around the country are starting to switch over to appropriate team names and mascots and it is time for North Haven to join the movement. Our town must take a stand and change the old and disrespectful ways people think about race.,”.

The New Haven Register, which itself says it’s time to abandon Indian mascots, says there are 23 Connecticut teams with some variation of Indian mascot names. Quinnipiac University, next door in Hamden, did change the name of its mascot from the Braves to the Bobcats in 2002.

So What Can We Do to Help?

Sign the online petition to the North Haven Board of Education;

Write to the North Haven Board of Education via Superintendent Cronin, and if you are from an Indian nation, mention it;

—Have well-known Indian leaders, athletes, celebrities, and heads of organizations write a letter;

—Solicit letters from human rights organizations, anti-racism groups, etc.;

Comment in an educational way on the Facebook page that supports keeping the “Indians” name;

—Get the teacher unions involved. North Haven’s union is an affiliate of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA). Contact the NHEA at: North Haven Education Association, 221 Elm Street, North Haven, CT 06473. Contact the CEA here and the National Education Association here and ask them to make statements. Another big teachers union in Connecticut is the American Federation of Teachers. Contact their president here;

Write letters to the New Haven Register;

Write an online comment in answer to this opinion piece in the North Haven Citizen;

—Write or link to accounts of successful campaigns to change away from insulting mascots;

—Get members of various Indian nations to attend the Thursday, March 12, Board of Education meeting at 6:30 p.m. meeting (5 Linsley Street, North Haven). Hold a press conference just before the meeting;

—Make short videos explaining why Indian nations find the idea of being a mascot offensive;

—Tweet about North Haven #NotYourMascot;

—Here’s a final suggestion. North Haven is just a few miles away from a major geographical feature, a small mountain called “Sleeping Giant.” Why not change the name of the mascot to the Giants? Maybe San Francisco Giants superstar Madison Bumgarner could be persuaded to come to North Haven and wear the first new sweatshirt!

Stanley Heller is producer and host of the TV news magazine The Struggle.