LITCHFIELD — Along with other schools across the state, Wamogo Regional High School is preparing to remove all its Native American imagery.
This move pertains to a law (Senate Bill No. 1202) approved by the Connecticut General Assembly in June that says some school funding will be taken away if a school “uses 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” after July 1, 2022.
Wamogo Regional High School has three images that would pertain to this law — all in its gymnasium. Two are at the end of the basketball court and the other is a painting that has been on the wall since the 1980s, according to Warren First Selectman Tim Angevine. The school includes students from Warren, Morris and Goshen.
The school receives Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Funding, which annually distributes a grant to each of the state's 169 towns. The distribution is based on factors including the value of state-owned property and population.
The new state law reflects a national push for the removal of Native American mascots, symbols and images. According to the National Congress of American Indians, more than a dozen states across the country “have taken or are considering taking formal actions to address the continued use of harmful Native ‘themed’ mascots by public K-12 schools in their states,” NCAI said on its website. These images are thought to be “derogatory” and “harmful stereotypes” of Native people, according to the NCAI.
Native American images have been used in the school district since the early 1950s, Angevine said.
“The intent was to represent strength and courage,” Angevine said. “The founders of the district, including my grandfather (George Angevine) — who was involved with the building of the district school — intended it to show respect for the indigenous people.”
Angevine said, however, that he agrees with the state’s decision.
The imagery “is also powerful in perpetuating the stereotypes that we should be working to avoid,” he said.
Angevine added that the use of the word “Warriors,” which is the high school’s mascot, does not violate the law.
The 6-square-foot acrylic painting showing a native American chief with a headdress was made by former Salvatore Gulino, who taught art at the high school from 1957-1990.
Gulino, who is now 91 and lives in Southbury, said the school superintendent at that time had asked him to create the painting — which he did, out of an image he copied.
When the painting appeared in the local newspaper, Gulino said he received a letter from an Indian chief in the area, thanking him.
“It has to be said that the people that named (the mascot) Warriors were showing great respect for the native Americans and their strength,” Gulino said.
In the painting, the Indian has war paint on, “and the idea was the athletes were called the Wamogo Warriors,” he said.
While he said he doesn’t agree the painting needs to be taken down, he understands how it can be viewed as offensive.
While the painting “would never be able to fit through the doorway of my condo,” should he be asked to take it back, he said, “I just hope that it would be some place where it would be appreciated.”