While many teams have been moving away from using Native American names and symbols, the Connecticut Sun have added them to their jerseys as a way to honor the heritage of the team’s tribal owners.
The WNBA on Thursday unveiled three new looks for each of its 12 teams as part of the league’s 25th anniversary celebration. The jerseys are designed to reflect stories of “female archetypes” in each of the teams’ communities.
The Sun are owned by the Mohegan Tribe and play their games at Mohegan Sun Arena, which is part of a casino resort on tribal land.
Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba said it’s important to the Mohegans that they be the ones to determine the images associated with the tribe and the team.
“The jerseys are important because there has been so much cultural appropriation and also just a lack of understanding of truly what it means to be native in this country,” she said. “We own this narrative. This is our narrative and we are the only ones that can tell it.”
The team’s three looks will each include references to the tribe, including a Mohegan symbol first painted on bark and traditional baskets hundreds of years ago. The mark’s 13 dots have several meanings to the tribe, including the 13 moons of the year and the 13 sections on the shell of the turtle on which, according to tribal belief, mother Earth was created, the chief said.
One jersey will honor Gladys Tantaquidgeon, the tribe’s former medicine woman, who died in 2005 at age 106. She was an anthropologist, author, tribal council member and tribal elder.
“Women in our tribe have always played a very essential leadership role,” said Beth “Morning Deer” Regan, the vice chairwoman and justice for the Mohegan Tribal Council of Elders. ”And so we see our women’s basketball team as leaders in social justice, just as our most admired former female tribal leaders were as well.”
The jersey will be blue, the color of the regalia Tantaquidgeon wore, and its neckline includes images of canoes the tribe once used. The jersey will have the Mohegan word for sun, Keesusk, across the front.
Nike came up with the idea for the collection and worked with the Connecticut Sun front office and tribal officials on the details.
“It was a real collaborative effort with the tribal council, our elders, the chief and our medicine woman, who all had some voice in this,” Regan said.