MERIDEN — H.C. Wilcox Technical High School’s leaders are considering whether it is time to retire the school’s longtime nickname: the Indians.
The consideration comes after state lawmakers last week included in the state budget implementer bill a provision that would withhold aid from tribal gaming revenues from municipalities where a school uses a mascot, name or image associated with Native American tribes.
Language, which appears more than 70 pages into the legislation, lists several municipalities, including Meriden and North Haven, which receive local funding derived from gaming revenues. According to that list, Meriden is scheduled to receive more than $1.5 million. North Haven is scheduled to receive a little less than $269,000.
The language does not list the Connecticut Technical High School System that oversees Wilcox as a recipient of gaming revenue.
CT Tech officials confirmed the statewide system does not receive tribal gaming revenues and therefore would not be impacted by the change.
CT Tech Superintendent Jeffrey Wihbey, when reached by phone recently, said if that had been the case, changing the mascot would be the clear-cut solution.
“Certainly if we would be in jeopardy of losing any funds we would pretty immediately move toward changing the mascots ... We’re not going to forfeit any money for the kids,” Wihbey said.
He added, with or without the funding aspect, it’s likely time to look into retiring Wilcox’s longtime nickname and logo.
“Either way it’s probably a good time to look at it. Maybe it’s time to be proactive,” Wihbey said. Officials had hoped to start the conversation earlier, but put that discussion on hold because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We started to head in that direction anyway,” Wihbey said.
So CT Tech leaders will reach out to tribal leaders from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes later this summer to start a new dialogue about the issue, explained Kerry Markey, CT Tech’s director of communications.
That conversation will continue with the school’s community, including staff, as well as current students and Wilcox alumni, later this fall.
The Record-Journal attempted to reach members of the Wilcox community, including one prominent alumnus: Miguel Cardona, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.
Through a department spokesman, Cardona and the agency declined comment.
Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation spokeswoman Lori Potter responded to the Record-Journal with a written statement, which said the tribal nation “opposes the use of any and all Native American-related nicknames, mascots, and imagery except: (1) when a school/sports team using a specific tribal name has the written consent of the federal or state-recognized tribe whose name is being used to do so; or (2) in the case of non-specific terms generally associated with Native Americans (e.g. Braves, Warriors), when the school/sports team has the written consent of a federal or state-recognized tribe that is located in the same geographic region or has some historical connection to the school/sports team.”
The statement said the Pequot tribal nations “ strongly object to any and all use of redface or any songs, chants, costumes, body gestures (e.g. ‘tomahawk chop’), or any other actions intended to imitate Native Americans or Native American cultures. Likewise, the MPTN calls for an end to the wide-ranging appropriation of Native American-related imagery, culture and names in all manner of commercial settings that continue to promote stereotypes, misrepresent Native culture and create lasting harm for tribal nations and their citizens.”
In 2013, Wilcox replaced its former team logo, which had depicted an Indian in a headdress, while keeping the Indians name.
According to Record-Journal archives, that logo was replaced with one that featured feathers around the letters “WT.” The change prompted a short-lived, failed online petition to revert back to the previous logo.