WISCASSET, Maine — Three years after the town’s new school district angered many residents by changing the Wiscasset High School mascot from Redskins to Wolverines, the town approved a request for a new, private road to be named “Redskin’s Drive.”
The Board of Selectmen on Tuesday voted 3-1, with one abstention, to approve a request by homeowner Ashley Gagnon to rename the small road off Bradford Road, according to Chairwoman Pam Dunning.
According to Sue Barney, the town assessor’s agent and E-911 addressing officer, the naming request had the support of Jeff Fortier and Michael and Sara Harvey — the only other people listed by the Wiscasset assessor as owning property on the road.
None of the property owners could be reached for comment this week.
Town Manager Marian Anderson told selectmen Tuesday the owners’ first choice was Redskin’s Drive, but other choices were Winchester Drive, Shotgun Alley, Black Widow Lane and Remington Lane, The Times Record reported.
Tuesday’s vote comes against a backdrop of mounting pressure to stop using Redskins as the name of the National Football League team in Washington, D.C., and after years of efforts by Maine’s Indian tribes to encourage communities and school districts to change place names and mascots that tribal members deem racist or offensive.
Dunning cast the sole vote against the naming decision Tuesday night. Selectman Ben Rines, vice chairman of the board, made a motion to allow the name, then voted in favor, along with Selectmen Bill Barnes and Tim Merry, she said. Selectman Jefferson Slack abstained.
“My objection is that there are some people who find that word extremely offensive,” Dunning said Wednesday. “I can sympathize with them. I don’t find it offensive. I think the kids in the school system have used ‘Redskins’ so long, and it’s been a word of pride for them — it’s like warriors, it’s like soldiers. They don’t look at it as a racial term. They just look at it as a ‘big strong guy’ term. But keeping in mind that other people find that term offensive, I just thought it was a good idea [to vote against it].”
Rines on Thursday acknowledged the road’s name will “probably” trigger controversy, but he said he supported it because “it’s part of our heritage.”
“The three who voted for it are all graduates of Wiscasset High School,” he said. “That pretty much sums it up. I’m a native. I grew up in Wiscasset and lived here all my life. Generally speaking, people have a right to name private roads what they want. I just looked at it as the neighborhood wanting to recognize their high school heritage.”
Rines, who said he graduated from Wiscasset High School in 1971, said the Regional School Unit 12 board of directors “took the name away. The people of Wiscasset didn’t have a say in it. In that sense, there’s a lot of pent-up frustration in the town. Most of us, it’s all we’ve ever known.”
Paul Bisulca, who represented the Penobscot Nation in the Maine Legislature and served as chairman of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, said Thursday he explained to Wiscasset selectmen several years ago the word was offensive to Native Americans and thought they understood.
“Unfortunately, hatred is part of our heritage, too, and we try very hard to eliminate it,” Bisulca said.
“I’ve been to Wiscasset, and I think it was made clear that ‘redskin’ is not a term which honors Native Americans in the least,” he added. “Someone who doesn’t understand that is ignorant, and those who understand it and use it are hateful. Whatever best fits the description for the people who have decided to do this, and for those who contemplated [allowing it], they can take their pickings as to which word applies to them.
“It seems to me that people who care about how people view the people of Wiscasset would oppose this,” he said. “People just look at Wiscasset with disdain when they behave in this manner. It’s very disappointing to me.”