A small American Indian tribe is supporting a Connecticut city’s attempt to retain funding put in jeopardy by its continued use of a Native American mascot and imagery for its schools’ athletic teams.
The Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, which has just over 100 members in Western Connecticut, passed a resolution this month supporting the city of Derby’s use of the nickname “Red Raiders” and logos that include an arrowhead and the profile of the head of an American Indian.
The tribe says it supports the use of those images “as a public means of sustaining Native American culture and history of Connecticut’s first citizens,” according to the March 15 resolution from the tribal council.
Derby Board of Education Chair Jim Gildea said city officials sat down with tribal leaders, including Schaghticoke Chief Richard Velky, to discuss the issue. He said the city explained the images are meant to honor the area’s Native American heritage. He also said the term “Red Raiders” has nothing to do with skin color.
“It’s similar to the Duke Blue Devils, the Tulane Green Wave,” he said. “Through the years, people may have lost sight of that, but Derby High School’s colors are red and white.”
The state last year enacted a law that requires municipalities whose athletic teams use Native American names or mascots to receive written support from a state or federally recognized tribe in Connecticut or risk losing state grants derived from revenue at the state’s two tribal casinos, The Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino.
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 gaming centers. 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.
Derby is slated to receive $207,304 for the 2023 fiscal year, according to the state.
The Schaghticokes do not contribute to the fund, but Gildea said that should not matter.
“We should not cherry pick which Native American, state-recognized tribe we decide to give the ability to grant waivers to,” he said. “They are all honorable, decent tribes who are state recognized and that should be the only litmus test.”
Several Connecticut municipalities, including West Hartford and Montville have voted to end the use of Native American mascots. Glastonbury recently rejected an attempt to restore the nickname “Tomahawks” to its schools.
The National Congress of American Indians declined to comment specifically on the Schaghticoke’s decision, but said it supports the retirement of Native “themed” mascots at all levels absent a formal agreement with a sovereign tribal nation.
“NCAI shares the unified voice of hundreds of Tribal Nations, and that voice has been consistent and clear for decades: stereotypical and dehumanizing sports mascots, monikers and symbols cause well-documented harms to Native people, particularly Native youth, and they have no place in American society,” the organization said in a statement.
Gildea said there was no quid pro quo involved in the tribe’s support of Derby’s application to the state. But he said the school district has agreed to work with the tribe, which is based in Kent but has offices in Derby, on educational programs centered around Native American history in the area.
Cheif Velky and officials with the governor’s office and the state Office of Policy and Management tribe did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.
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