FORT KENT, Maine — A Spartan soldier from ancient Greece is helping put an end to any Native American imagery or artwork associated with the Warriors of Fort Kent Community High School.
A new logo, created by local high school student Erin Chasse, features the profile of the head and shoulders of a Spartan warrior wearing a helmet crested with a green-and-white plume (the school colors) set against a backdrop of the Fort Kent Blockhouse.
The design was approved by the SAD 27 Board of Directors at its regular meeting on Monday.
To avoid racial stereotyping, the school district decided about a decade ago to discontinue using the symbol of an Indian warrior to represent its schools and athletes.
Just last year, however, School Administrative District Superintendent Tim Doak said he still spotted some of the imagery while walking around the high school, including on walls and a podium.
The images quickly were removed.
The SAD 27 Warrior mascot goes back more than 50 years, and up until a decade ago, it was represented by a drawing of the head of a Native American with a feathered headdress.
It was about 11 years ago, when he was principal at the high school, Doak said, that the school board decided the district should move away from the logo and just use the word “Warrior” on school uniforms and literature.
The district since has worked to remove any depictions of Native Americans as mascots from SAD 27 property, literature and uniforms, Doak said.
Over the last few years, schools and municipalities statewide have heeded the concerns of Maine tribes offended by images and terms such as “redskins” being used in place names and to symbolize sports teams.
In 2006, Old Town High School, located adjacent to the Penobscot Nation’s lands on Indian Island, changed its team name from Indians to Coyotes.
Six years later the Sanford School Board followed suit and changed its high school team name from Redskins to Spartans.
Maine passed a law in 2000 banning the use of the term “squaw,” a derogatory word for women, in public place names. The law was expanded in 2009 to include a ban on any derivations of the word.
As recently as last fall, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen reversed a decision allowing residents to name a private road “Redskin’s Drive,” changing it to “Micmac Drive.”
The transitions have not always gone smoothly or without conflict, with schools’ alumni arguing that use of Indian drawings or costumes are in fact signs of respect and that they honor Native Americans.
Since the new Warrior logo was introduced this week, several posts on the Facebook page of local online newspaper Fiddlehead Focus have been critical of the district for moving away from the old image in the first place, accusing school board members and administrators of bowing to extreme political correctness.
“Our children identify with the strength and pride of the Fort Kent Warrior logo. This is an honor to the American Indians, not disrespect,” said one post.
“I guess I don’t understand why the Warrior logo was offensive to them. To me, being a Non-Native American, the Warrior logo signified strength, determination, and perseverance.” said another.
Those opinions are nothing new to Barry Dana, former chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation and self-employed artist, educator and activist.
“I totally accept the philosophy of non-natives who embrace the concept of being native as something to be honored,” Dana said. “I find nothing wrong with non-natives thinking that way if they have never been told anything differently.”
But when Native Americans step forward and offer their perspectives on why using Indian imagery and nicknames as mascots are offensive, that is when things need to change, he said
“When a native person says, ‘Wait, here’s the problem — we are not mascots, we are people who deserve to not be interpreted by your value system,’” Dana said. “Then we are saying in no way are you honoring us.”
Dana said use of traditional Indian items such as drums or feathers — considered sacred to many tribes — as team logos is as offensive to Native Americans as using Judeo-Christian items like a crucifix or chalice would be to Christians.
“When we see [non-natives] dressed like Indians or using our symbolism, our imagery for their mascots or entertainment I have a reaction like fingernails on a blackboard,” Dana said. “Native people are pretty much in a consensus on this.”
Dana said on numerous occasions after taking his children or grandchildren to events where Indians were used as mascots, he’s had to address their pointed questions about why images they believe are sacred are lampooned or laughed at in sporting and entertainment venues.
“It really affects us,” he said. “And when non-natives do this, it offends us, period.”
As of midweek in Fort Kent, Doak said no one had approached him directly with anything negative to say about the new district logo, as long as the name did not change.
“People I have talked to around town were more concerned we stay ‘Warriors,’” he said.
As for the students, Doak said that soon after he ordered the removal of any remaining offensive images in the school district last year, some approached him to indicate that they understood the reasons why. At the same time, though, they told him they wanted an actual mascot of some sort to replace it.
“So we took it to the students,” Doak said. “We held a contest within the district and asked them to submit drawings.”
The only specifications given were that the new logo had to have a warrior theme and not use any Native American imagery.
Students voted for their favorites of the 21 submissions, according to Doak, and a group of district teachers and administrators reviewed the top three, ultimately recommending Chasse’s drawing, which had garnered the most student votes.
Doak said the image can now be used for everything from team uniforms to fundraisers to district letterhead.
“We are still Warriors,” he said. “Now we are Warriors with a Spartan, not an Indian head.”