CONTRIBUTORS

Time for Skowhegan, Nokomis to answer: What makes your school so special?

Ed Rice
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Ed Rice
Posted March 18, 2014, at 11:24 a.m.

Nearly 30 schools in Maine have stopped using Native American nicknames and symbols, mostly over the past decade. Standing all alone are Nokomis Regional High School of Newport, Skowhegan Area High School and southern Maine’s Wells High School in a race for infamy: Who will be the last to stop this insidious practice in Maine?

A handful of education officials are, quite simply, arrogantly demonstrating to their students a poor model for showing respect to minorities. They are embarrassing staff and faculty members and their communities in stubbornly resisting the winds of change all over Maine and the United States. Their tyranny must be challenged. A chance to present a proper civil rights model to Maine’s young people and the opportunity to cross an admirable finish line nationwide are at stake.

Yes, according to the website American Indian Sports Teams Mascots, www.aistm.org, Maine could be one of the first states to completely eradicate such nicknames and mascots.

Educational leaders in Newport and Skowhegan should understand it does not matter how much of a majority (if, indeed, a majority exists) of voices in their communities they can claim support the decision to persist. There are voices of disapproval in their communities. And they know there are many voices of disapproval among Maine’s Native American population.

There are two important points they should consider.

In this instance, the mere fact that there is any kind of minority dissent is enough to end the practice. Something as innocuous as a mascot should never provide a platform for showing disrespect to a culture and for being offensive to anyone at all.

And, some day soon, if they don’t take this step, someone of integrity will do it. The current leadership will be remembered for failing.

Frankly, Nokomis Regional High School — since it is the “Warriors” — could quite easily drop the use of its “Indian head” icon and move rather seamlessly to a generic use of the term “Warrior.” An easy fix, if ever there was one. It’s what then Fort Kent Community High School Principal Tim Doak did; it’s what the administration at Southern Aroostook High School did; and it’s what schools all across the country have done.

Nokomis Principal Mary Nadeau, RSU 19 Superintendent Gregory Potter and school board members can follow the lead of elementary schools in their own district — in Corinna, Dixmont and Etna — that knew to stop this practice.

In Skowhegan, community members who oppose the nickname “Indians” and related mascot can take heart from their town’s greatest role model, Margaret Chase Smith, who stood up alone to oppose the tyranny of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Principal Richard Wilson, Superintendent Brent Colbry and the 23-member School Board of MSAD 54 should know it’s time to stop bringing unnecessary shame to their community.

Nicknames and mascots should be a trivial topic. And, of course, there are far more important issues relating to our Native Americans. However, when we can’t even show them the most basic form of respect, how can we expect to tackle the weightier, costlier issues? A basic show of respect costs us nothing.

So, now is the time for young people in Maine to teach their elders something. One small but courageous act could make a difference.

Perhaps, led by members of those schools’ civil rights teams, students in those schools could stand up to the misguided tyranny of a handful of adults. How about boycotting a sporting event with Nokomis or Skowhegan? Just imagine the headlines statewide, regionally or even nationally that act might provoke — and the shame it will bring to the offending school. Yes, it’s time to use the tactics of civil disobedience to stand up to uncivil school doctrine.

The media, too, are necessary: We need to see the administrators of Nokomis and Skowhegan asked again and again — in newspapers, on television and radio, in the social media networks — why they continue to resist when so many other schools have made the change.

How can they be allowed to continue to utter their meaningless mantra of “we’re proud to honorthem” when they know so many Native American and other concerned voices respond daily that they find the practice disgraceful?

Ed Rice of Orono is a journalist, adjunct college instructor and author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian.” He has a website at www.sockalexis.info.

 

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