It may have been the non sequitur of the week. Before a mid-April meeting with tribal members to talk about Skowhegan High School’s continued use of the Indian name and mascot, dozens of white people paraded outside carrying signs with sentiments such as “Skowhegan Indians Our Heritage.” Being called an Indian while in high school does not make one an Indian any more than being called an eagle or falcon means you can fly.
Merriam-Webster defines heritage as “the traditions, achievements, beliefs, etc., that are part of the history of a group or nation.” Skowhegan High School likely has traditions and group history, and those — the school’s heritage — would remain no matter what the school mascot is.
Skowhegan High School is the last in the state to have an Indian mascot and nickname. It is time to let go of this false heritage. Instead, the school system has scheduled another public forum for next week to further discuss the nickname and mascot.
On April 13, 10 representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac Indian tribes spoke to SAD 54’s education policy program committee about the school’s mascot.
Maulian Smith, a member of the Penobscot Nation who grew up, lives and works on Indian Island, shared an exchange she had with her daughter before the meeting, the Morning Sentinel reported. Smith said she told her young daughter where she was going and that they would be talking about the school’s “Indian” mascot.
“She said, ‘What’s a mascot?’ and I said, ‘You know, like black bears, panthers,’ and she goes, ‘Well they’re animals — Indians are not animals,’” Smith said. “She’s six years old. You don’t take a race of people and turn them into animals. It makes it easy to knock them down, to treat them like an object and not treat them like human beings. Indian mascots are wrong.”
Slowly, Maine schools have dropped offensive names and changed offensive mascots. In 2001, Scarborough High School dropped Redskins in favor of Red Storm, the first school to make such a change. The Husson Braves became the Husson Eagles. The Old Town Indians are now the Old Town Coyotes. Nearly 30 Maine schools, from elementary schools to colleges, have changed their mascots and team nicknames in recent years.
There was resistance in many communities, just as there is in Skowhegan. But when town and school leaders heard repeatedly from tribal members that their nicknames and mascots were offensive, they made the changes.
Here, for example, is the standard set by one school board member in Wiscasset when her community discussed its Redskins mascot in 2011: “It’s the Golden Rule,” Kim Andersson, then an RSU 12 board member, 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.”
Nearly 15 years after the tide began to turn, this work of ending the use of offensive mascots and team names should be done. It’s time SAD 54 applied the golden rule and chose a new mascot.