Sen. Cathy Osten (CTNewsJunkie file photo)

Schools with Native American team names or mascots came under increased pressure to find alternatives Tuesday as the state’s civil rights enforcement agency released a statement labeling the practice indefensible. 

“It is our agency’s position that it is no longer tenable to treat any ethnic or racial group as appropriated symbols for school athletics,” the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities announced in a press release. 

The notice from the agency, which enforces state civil rights and antidiscrimination laws, is another shot across the bow for towns with sports teams using nicknames, mascots or logos depicting Native American imagery. 

It is the second such warning this month. Two weeks ago, the legislature approved budgetary language allowing the state to withhold grant funding from the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund to around a dozen Connecticut towns if they refuse to change their team mascots. 

In its Tuesday statement, the CHRO said that the mascots were effectively caricatures of the depicted groups and amounted to cultural appropriation. The group pointed to a study suggesting their use was psychologically harmful to the educational experiences of both Native and non-Native students. 

 “The practice of using American Indian names and imagery as part of the educational experience has gone on for too long in Connecticut,” Tanya Hughes, the commission’s executive director, said. “Using these names is an act of racist appropriation, and that is not even considering the mounting evidence of quantifiable harm being done to all students. While we understand this may be a challenge for some communities, it is time for this practice to end.” 

The group praised the work of Sen. Cathy Osten, a Sprague Democrat who is co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. Osten advocated for the passage of the provision seeking to withhold grants from the Pequot and Mohegan Fund, which is supported by revenue from Connecticut’s two tribal casinos. 

“The people it reflects on have said they don’t appreciate this, that they think this is wrong,” Osten said earlier this month. “Why should the dollars that they raise be used to support something like this?”

The CHRO said many Connecticut towns including Farmington, Glastonbury, Newington, North Haven and Watertown have recently taken steps to address the issue. In May, officials in North Haven voted to retire the North Haven Indians logo after receiving a letter from the CHRO warning the agency was considering suing the town.

“Connecticut has come to a reckoning point on this issue,” the commission said Tuesday.