November 18, 2018
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Wiscasset selectmen approve request to change offensive road name

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis commends Wiscasset residents, who requested and received approval to change the formerly offensive street name to Micmac Drive.

WISCASSET, Maine — Following weeks of criticism leveled by members of Maine’s Indian tribes and others, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen on Tuesday unanimously granted residents of the newly named “Redskin’s Drive” permission to change the name again — this time to Micmac Drive.

In a letter dated Sept. 23, residents Sara Harvey, Michael Harvey and Jeff Fortier wrote, “To avoid any further conflict or potential lawsuits with the Indian tribes in the state, we give our consent [for the name change]; but we would like to just continue to show our pride to our Indian heritage in the road that leads to our home by using my father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s side of our Indian heritage as the road name.”

Chief Edward Peter Paul of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs told the BDN last month he had no problem with the proposal to call the road “Micmac Drive.”

“It’s cool,” he said, adding he sees the plan to name the road in honor of a Maine Native American tribe as a sign of respect.

An earlier selectmen’s vote to allow the road to be named Redskin’s Drive spurred leaders of the Penobscot Indian Nation to write letters to selectmen, urging them to reconsider.

On Aug. 19, Wiscasset selectmen voted 3-1, with one abstention, to approve the name Redskin’s Drive for a small private road off Bradford Road. The decision came three years after the town’s new school district angered many residents by changing the Wiscasset High School mascot from Redskins to Wolverines.

Selectman Ben Rines said that while the name would “probably” trigger controversy, it was still “part of our heritage.”

But leaders of Maine’s tribes called the road name racist and a horrific part of the tribes’ heritage.

On Sept. 4, Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation, and former Penobscot chief Jim Sappier wrote to town officials, expressing “disappointment” in their decision and urging them to reverse it. Sappier said the name “is based completely on racism.”

“The history and origin of this word is a particularly painful one for Wabanaki,” Francis wrote. “It represents a reminder of a time when our people were hunted by settlers, our bodies and scalps sold to the Commonwealth. The 1755 Spencer Phips Proclamation placed a bounty specifically on my people, the Penobscot, offering payment of up to 50 pounds for each man, woman and child. When scalps were brought in for payment, they were referred to as ‘redskins.’”

At the time, Francis told the Bangor Daily News lawyers were evaluating whether a human rights complaint would be filed in federal or state court.

Francis praised the road name change in an email Wednesday, noting acceptance of the the “R word” by others in Maine negatively affects the self-esteem and health of young tribal members.

“This simply is not just an Indian issue but involves us all to ensure that racism, and words that represent such, are no longer acceptable in a society where we must co-exist productively for the good of all of Maine,” he said. “I commend the residents for their understanding and willingness to acknowledge these facts as much more than just simple political correctness. The Penobscot Nation thanks them for taking quick action and showing the leadership on this issue that was needed, which can serve as a model for productive dialogue and understanding leading to appropriate change that reflects how we all want to be treated.”

 


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