Maine began walking down the path toward ethnic sensitivity by banning the use of the word squaw in place names nearly a decade ago. Now the time has come for Maine to continue this trek and nudge schools away from using sports mascots that natives find offensive. Rather than debate whether the Indian names are chosen to honor or denigrate, schools must take Maine tribes at their word when they say the use of words such as Redskins and Braves are inappropriate.
There is good news on this matter. Many schools in Maine already have replaced the names inspired by Native Americans. Nine years ago, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended that schools eliminate Indian mascots or nicknames (except schools operated by tribes).
“They are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country,” the commission wrote. “The use of stereotypical images of Native Americans by educational institutions has the potential to create a ra-cially hostile educational environment that may be intimidating to Indian students.”
The commission argued that such nicknames “teach all students that stereotyping of minority groups is acceptable, a dangerous lesson in a diverse society. Schools have a responsibility to educate their students; they should not use their influence to perpetuate misrepresentations of any culture or people.”
And five years ago, the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned from post-season championship competition colleges and universities using Indian mascots. Some schools have been granted waivers because local tribes have given them permission to use such mascots and logos.
A forum on the question, “Respectful or Disgraceful?: Examining Maine School Use of Indian Nicknames and Mascots,” is being hosted by Maine’s four Indian tribes 1-4 p.m. Saturday, May 15, at the Bangor Public Library. Organizer Ed Rice notes that some Maine schools have changed the names of their sports teams, including Old Town High School, from Indians to Coyotes; Scarborough High School, from Redskins to Red Tide; and Husson University, from Braves to Eagles. Nationally, institutions such as St. John’s University switched from Redmen to Red Storm; Dartmouth Col-lege, from Braves to The Big Green; and University of Miami of Ohio, from Redskins to Redhawks.
But nine schools in Maine remain holdouts. Three are elementary schools: Athens Elementary School, Apaches; Strong Elementary School, Indians; and Beatrice Rafferty Elementary School of Perry, an Indian school on the Passamaquoddy Reservation at Sipayik, Indians. Six high schools include: Nokomis Regional High School of Newport, Warriors; Sanford High School, Redskins; Skowhegan High School, Indians; Southern Aroostook High School of Island Falls, Warriors; Wells High School, Warriors; and Wiscasset High School, Redskins.
The time has come for these schools to respond and rename. Contests for choosing the new name, color schemes and logo designs all could involve students and inject some creativity and fun into the school year. As long as Maine’s tribes are offended, and the remedy is relatively easy, there is no other choice.