A Connecticut high school is drawing flak after it reinstated its longtime mascot just six months after it was removed amid claims the “Redmen” name and logo was offensive to Native Americans.
Killingly High School has been represented by the Redmen since 1939 – but in July, the school board voted to nix the name, and three months later, replaced it with a new mascot, the Red Hawks, The New York Times reported.
The change was short-lived, however, as new members took control of the school board in November and on Wednesday reinstated the Redmen mascot in a 5-4 vote during a board meeting, according to the Hartford Courant. The Red Hawks mascot was previously removed during a meeting in December.
The board also reportedly said it hopes to update the school’s logo so as not to be offensive to Native Americans, and that there were discussions about teaching students about Native American heritage.
Last week’s five-hour meeting was reportedly a heated one, and drew arguments both from those who claimed the Redmen name was offensive and racist, and from those who said the word was actually a way to honor Native Americans, NBC affiliate WVIT reported.
“I recognize there have been many Native Americans who have voiced those concerns. But I would say there is an equal amount of Native people who feel the opposite,” Republican board member Jason Muscara, who supported the Redmen name, said, according to the Times.
According to the Courant, Muscara also argued that students who supported reinstating the mascot had reached out to him to say they felt as though they couldn’t publicly voice their opinions.
“If we’re going to talk about respecting our students and protecting our students and doing what’s best for our students, we need to respect the opinion of all of our students, not just the ones we agree with,” he said, while other Republican board members argued that it had “nothing to do with race.”
Still, the mascot — whose logo features the profile of a Native American man wearing a traditional headdress — has faced opposition previously from local tribes including the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Nipmuc Tribal Nation, who considered it racist, the Courant reported.
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Minutes from a December Killingly board meeting show that Mark One Wolf of the Native American Guardians Association gave a presentation during a mascot discussion, and argued that Killingly could “come up with a better image that honors indigenous Native American tribes of the Killingly area.”
“We stopped letting it be about the students and doing what’s right,” board member Hoween Flexer said during last week’s meeting, according to the Times. “And people can be mad about the process and people can be mad about losing whatever it is they think they’re losing. But the people who are directly impacted have spoken and we chose to not listen to them.”
The Redmen mascot has also faced opposition from teachers and students, like school athletic director Kevin Marcoux, who reportedly spoke at the meeting and said his team had become the “laughingstock” of Connecticut.
“We look racist,” Killingly senior Soudalath Souvanhnathan reportedly said. “This is not what I want our school to be known for. And all because people don’t want to let go of tradition. This has made Killingly a laughingstock.”
Following the decision to reinstate the mascot, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation released a statement to the Courant that encouraged board members to take another look at their decision.
“Although we appreciate the Board of Education’s decision to establish a subcommittee to develop a Native American centered curriculum, we’re disappointed in their vote to reinstate the offensive Redmen mascot,” the statement said. “We support the sentiments shared by members of our Youth Council at yesterday’s hearing, and believe the mascot doesn’t honor or represent Native people and has no place in our school system.”
A spokesperson for the Killingly Board of Education did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.