The Skowhegan-area school district is the last in the state to use the Indians nickname for its sports teams. The school board has again opened the door to consideration of dropping the offensive nickname. This is an important opportunity to end a divisive chapter in the community’s history.
They will once again hear from tribal members and their supporters, which include Gov.-elect Janet Mills, that use of the Indian nickname and mascot are offensive. Board members will also hear from defenders of the name who will argue that it is part of their heritage and meant to respect Native Americans.
When it comes to offensive mascots and team names, there aren’t two legitimate sides of the debate, however. When a group of people, or your neighbor or a relative, tells you that something you are doing is offensive or hurtful, you should stop doing it. Trying to convince them you mean no harm is beside the point. So is citing a long history of using the mascot and nickname.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, American Psychological Association, NCAA and others have discouraged the use of tribal mascots and nicknames because of the damage they can do to tribal members, especially young people.
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.
Last year, after a complaint from a parent who was a member of the Micmac Tribe, the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District began a months-long reconsideration of its use of an Indian-head logo with its Warriors nickname. Earlier this year, the district’s board voted unanimously to drop the logo and other Native American imagery.
Nokomis High School in Newport expects to make a similar decision when it moves to a new building next year. Nokomis uses the Warriors name and an Indian-head logo.
This leaves just Skowhegan High School with the Indians name.
We understand that supporters of the nickname don’t mean to be offensive, but this sentiment misses the point. Real-life Native Americans have said the team name — and some of the rituals and chants that have accompanied it — is offensive. That should be the end of the discussion.
Skyler Lewey, an Old Town High School sophomore and Indian Island resident, summed it up well last week. “You are Indians for four years. We are Indians for our whole lives,” she told attendees at Thursday’s meeting.
Tribal members have met with members of Maine’s new Legislature to discuss a potential state law to prohibit the use of Native American mascots and names. California, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon have already passed such bans.
Such a ban could be appropriate, but it should be unnecessary. Skowhegan should follow the lead of other communities and drop the Indians name.