New language added to the state budget bill the CT General Assembly votes on this week aims to withhold certain funding from towns that have Native American school mascots — and Wilton is included on that town list.
Wilton Public School officials say the Wilton High School Warrior — once very clearly represented as a Native American man — no longer has connotations to indigenous people. Instead, the Wilton mascot is portrayed as a Greek or Trojan warrior, and in recent years the school’s logo has been adapted to put more distance between it and any Native American imagery.
The measure was introduced by State Sen. Cathy Osten (D-19) who represents the region where the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe reservations are located. Osten’s provision would prevent municipal grant money derived from the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan fund from going to any city or town whose high school team nickname or mascot references Native American tribes.
Despite being one of the towns Osten includes on her list, State Sen. Will Haskell (D-26) told GOOD Morning Wilton that Wilton already doesn’t receive any grant money specifically derived from slot machine revenue allocated to the Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan fund. That means the new provision won’t have a financial impact on Wilton after all.
The Mashantucket Pequot/Mohegan Fund annually distributes approximately $50 million in grants to CT cities and towns, with individual disbursements ranging anywhere from a few thousand dollars to several million dollars. Distribution is based on numerous factors including, but not limited to, the value of state-owned property in a city or town, private college and general hospitals there, population, the equalized net grand list, and per-capita income.
Osten counts Wilton among her estimated dozen CT towns that have schools using “offensive Native American names and images such as Redmen, Red Raiders, Indians, Warriors, Chiefs, Chieftains.”
“Towns around this state have been told year after year by Connecticut’s Native American tribes that their nicknames and mascots are horribly offensive. Some towns have taken the proper steps to change, while others continue to ignore common decency and continue to disrespect our tribal partners who were here long, long before any city or town was ever incorporated,” said Osten, who is Senate Chair of the Appropriations Committee. “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.”
The provision’s language specifies both intramural and interscholastic teams associated with schools that use “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 name.
The Warrior name alone groups Wilton in the type of schools described in the provision, as does some imagery often displayed on uniforms, t-shirts, flags, banners and other gear. In addition, the student fan section at football and basketball games has been long referred to as “the Tribe.”
Even though Wilton doesn’t receive any funding anyway, it doesn’t stop critics like Osten from finding any association with Native American symbolism offensive and trying to pressure the town to change it. And the Wilton Warrior mascot question is something that school superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith has given considerable thought to.
Evolution of a Mascot
According to Smith, there’s been an effort to change the mascot over the years.
“Somewhere back in the early-mid-80s — ’82, ’83, ’84 — the high school made the switch from a native American warrior to a Greek or a Trojan warrior. You actually look at the mascot [now] and that’s absolutely what it is,” he said.
The logo of a large ‘W’ pierced by a spear has morphed as well over the last 10-15 years, and Smith said different versions are used by different groups and teams, even among younger, booster-led teams. The spear tip has changed shapes and up until recently had attached feathers associated with Native Americans. Greek warriors also used spears as weapons, but without adorning them with any feathers at all.
The current official school logo bears a spear without any feathers. But despite its official status, the logo with feathers still appears on some high school uniforms or gear, whether it’s ordered through the WHS Athletic Department, or retailers or online. [Other WHS team uniforms, including those for track and field, baseball, tennis and more, just say “Wilton” without any logo at all.] The feathered spear is also emblazoned in the center of both Lilly Field and Fujitani Field in the stadium. In other places, the logo appears completely without any spear.
“That doesn’t change that the reality that ours is a Greek warrior,” Smith maintains, adding, “In truth, our logo is the W, that’s what it is. It’s not the spear. I mean, I’m not sure exactly where the Genesis of that was, but the W is the logo.”
Smith acknowledges that the Board of Education and school district may need to lead a collective change and work with the youth teams.
“The approach here is, let’s just agree. We’ll round up the relevant parties and make some agreement. So one would be, the W would be the logo, anything that would have a spear in it shouldn’t have a feather on it, going forward. We’ll have to just commit to those changes broadly,” he said.