There is considerable dismay when the prospect of loss of identity occurs. As a former student and graduate of the Skowhegan-area school district, I too felt a certain sense of pride in our identity as “The Indians.”
I never once had the impression that the Indian mascot was coming from a place of racist, or prejudice sentiment. I never questioned the matter until much later when the Native American mascot controversy gained more traction in the media and eventually, inevitably, came here to our town.
I am someone who knows well the power of symbols. I am a local artist and a father. I too felt a measure of indignation and resentment at the prospect our our community being shamed and smeared by identity politics and political correctness to coerce our values and tradition.
However, I have had a change of heart.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, Maulian Dana held forth the feather and reminded us that, “This is sacred. This is not for winning basketball games.”
I ask, if another culture who had conquered and suppressed us, murdered our families, and violently annexed the land that had been our ancestors heritage for centuries, how would we feel if that culture had taken items and identities sacred to us, and used them in the spirit of their games, as a token symbol of pride?
The Indian mascot is an icon for many who enjoy athletics. An icon is a symbol meant to embody an idea or principle that is considered honorable. However, the symbol of the Indian mascot with the feather are not “our” symbols. They belong to Native people. It is wrong and offensive to continue to appropriate Native American cultural symbols and heritage, even if we think we are doing it out of respect.
At recent public hearings, I saw true “pride” in the presence and speech of Dana. She exemplifies the “spirit of pride” and the “fighting spirit.” She reminds us that Native Americans are not our “noble savages.” “They” are a proud race and people and deserve, have always deserved, “our” respect. I am unable to understand how the Skowhegan school district can continue to claim “excellence” if we remain so stubborn and insensitive. I ask out of need for human decency, and dignity that we surrender and lay to rest this issue of the mascot. I pray that we may begin to open our hearts and embrace that universal constant, which is “change.”
As an artist, I am ready to help this community revision a future with a new mascot, a new identity.
I have designed and propose a couple examples of a vision of what a new, powerful mascot could look like for this school district. I happened to like the idea of “The Skowhegan Ospreys.” I wanted to create a visual reference to help people see another possibility, in the hopes that ideas and discussion would further be generated.
To me, the osprey has regional significance and represents true “power” — the power we all have within us when we are undivided within ourselves and within this community.
The osprey has been making a come back to this region. They often fly from a place on high over our home. This image of the osprey is looking over its wing crest as a gesture of watchfulness and protection. Which, in light of current events, this town and every town and school district needs.
It’s my sincere hope to see these designs as potential new beginnings. It’s my intention to try and help heal this controversy that has been dividing our community. Let the spirit of the osprey who flies overhead protect and empower us and our young in sport, and in day-to-day life, inspiring as our guide and principle. The feathers are to honor, in a “hoop of life,” all sacred feathers everywhere.
Aaron McKusick is a Skowhegan artist.