New Mascots Try to Keep Indian Spirit, Without Offense

Kevin A. Thompson
September 7, 2023

(Photo: Washington Commanders Football team visits Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This team once had a racial slur as a team name.)

The Indian sport mascot issue is usually presented as non-Indians wrongly appropriating the name and image of Indigenous people. But what about schools that are historically Indian? What is their take on it?

University of North Carolina at Pembroke (UNCP) is a historically Lumbee Indian institution.  UNCP’s teams are nicknamed the Braves, while their symbol is a red-tail Hawk.  UNCP’s own website explains that in many American Indian cultures, animals were messengers from the Creator and/or symbols of bravery, which is why the red-tail hawk was chosen for the school’s symbol. 

Bravehawk is the costumed mascot who appears at sporting events. He is a hawk, not an Indian. The UNCP website says Bravehawk’s favorite movie is “Black Hawk Down,” and his favorite short story is “The Birds.” (LOL)

The town of Pembroke, North Carolina, is also mostly Lumbee Indian. Pembroke’s High school is named after Purnell Swett, an actual and respected Lumbee educator from the area.  Their mascot is a ram. 

In May 2022, the school board in West Hartford Connecticut, held a meeting to discuss the removal of the Indian-themed names for its two high schools. 

Richard Velky, a leader of the Schagticoke Tribal Nation, which has a reservation in Connecticut,  spoke in person to opposed the change, saying that removing Indian nicknames was “the first step in erasing Native American history completely.”

As of September 2023,  West Hartford’s Hall High School had changed from the Warriors to the Titans, and Conrad High had changed from the Chieftains to the Red Wolves. The name “Red Wolves” seems to be an homage to an Indian spirit, similar to Bravehawk.

In my hometown of Binghamton, NY, the two high schools merged in the 1980s. One high school had been the Bulldogs and the other had been the Indians.  The new merged high school became the Huskies, a dog breed developed by Indigenous people. 

And just this year nearby  Mahopac NY changed the name of its high school mascot from the Indians to the Wolf-Pac. The new logo is still undecided.

It should be noted that here in the northeast, lacrosse is a popular high school sport, with its Indian roots regularly acknowledged.

 Indian and Non-Indian communities have found ways to work together on the mascot issue. The spirit of peace is prevailing.


                                                                     STOP THE HATE


“Leader of Tribal Nations Argues West Hartford Leaders to Keep Native American Mascots,” by Dennis House, news, May 2022.

UNC-Pembroke “History and Traditions,”