A heated discussion regarding North Haven’s town mascot was cut short Thursday night after a verbal altercation between members of the public prompted the Board of Education to adjourn the meeting, leaving a line of residents in the North Haven High School auditorium aisle waiting to comment on the issue.
One resident, who wore a North Haven Indians T-shirt and baseball cap, continued speaking into the microphone as attendees were beginning to leave after the meeting’s adjournment.
The controversy is regarding the Indians name and logo. Supporters of a petition started by North Haven High School alumnus Talia Gallagher-who seeks to change the mascot-perceive it as a racist caricature rooted in Colonial era anti-Native American oppression. Others-more than 2,000 town residents signed a counter petition circulated by North Haven High School alumnus Michael Parisi-say that was never the intent, and that the mascot is a symbol of pride that embodies positive traits exhibited by the Native tribes that populated the area throughout the course of its history.
Gallagher started the discussion off with a written statement that she delivered to the Board and the meeting’s attendees-who packed the seats of the high school’s auditorium.
“The symbol in and of itself is an appropriation of people that have suffered genocide,” Gallagher said. “Times have changed, and we must right the wrongs that have gone unnoticed for too long.”
In her statement, Gallagher described the mascot as overgeneralizing people that are as diverse as the numerous tribes that they belong to.
“All tribes have their own beliefs and attire,” she said. “To use that blanket image of the Indian, wipes out the rich culture of different tribes.”
Others accused proponents of a mascot change of trying to wipe out what they see as part of the town’s history.
Sally Buemi, a graduate of North Haven High School who participated in athletics, says that she considered it a symbol of inspiration.
“The Quinnipiacs are woven into the fabric of our community,” Buemi said. “When I took the field, I felt I was honoring their pride and bravery.”
Parisi, who handed the Board his own petition, had similar thoughts.
“I grew up in North Haven,” he said. “I went through the school system, and I can say we learned about the Indian here. The Indian stands for honor, courage, and bravery, and I have 2,000 signatures here to prove that.”
Gallagher’s own petition currently has more than 800 supporters. While the town might not have meant to demean Native Americans in its mascot choice, residents should be mindful of the impact it has on those most impacted, she said.
“Even if this was done out of the purest intentions, the Native American community as a whole has determined Indian mascots to be offensive, and has asked for their removal,” Gallagher said.
Among them is Norm Clement, a member of the Penobscot tribe and confederate Quinnipiac.
“We are not Indians,” Clement said. “That was a mistake made by Columbus. We want to be called by our tribal name-that is our name.”