For more than a decade, Maine has made great progress in removing offensive place names from the state’s landscape.
Last week, the coastal town of Wiscasset took a large step backward by giving approval to a proposal to name a private road Redskin’s Drive.
The 3-1 vote in favor of the road name was, in part, a reflection of the selectmen’s anger at a decision made by the regional school board in 2011, which changed Wiscasset High School’s mascot from the Redskins to the Wolverines.
“The three who voted for it are all graduates of Wiscasset High School,” said vice chairman of the board Ben Rines, who voted to approve the road name. “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.”
School consolidation — and the creation of regional school boards where towns once oversaw their schools — remains controversial. But approving a racist name for a road does nothing to prove a point about local control.
As part of the 2011 debate, which included the RSU 12 board voting to immediately end the use of the Redskins name, then reinstating it for the remainder of that school year, a board member set the right standard.
“It’s the Golden Rule,” RSU 12 board member Kim Andersson, of Wiscasset, said at that time. “Our neighbors have told us that this is offensive to them. … It doesn’t matter if we think so or not.”
Maine’s Native Americans have said they find the name offensive. That should be enough to prompt others to stop using it.
And it has been for most. Nearly 30 Maine schools, from elementary schools to colleges, have changed their mascots and team nicknames in recent years. The four schools that used Redskins — Scarborough’s junior and high schools and Wiscasset’s and Sanford’s high schools — have changed their nicknames. Braves, Chiefs and Indians have also been dropped by schools across the state.
Nationally, there is growing pressure for the Washington Redskins football team to change its name.
Previously, in 2001, then-Gov. Angus King signed a law requiring the removal of “squaw,” or “squa,” from Maine geographic features, locations and highway signs. This was an expansion of a 1977 law removing the offensive name “nigger” from the state’s landscape.
This shows that as public understanding of offense names spread, needed changes were made.
It is unfortunate the Wiscasset selectmen chose to move backwards.