I’m seeing two inconvenient truths as the Skowhegan Area High School’s 23-member school board — again — considers whether to do the right thing, and end its use of an insensitive Indians nickname and mascot, or, maintain the status quo by continuing to bury its head in the sand, bringing shame and condemnation upon its communities.
Inconvenient Truth No. 1 revolves around chairperson Dixie Ring and her historically core majority of intractable adults.
Their “Save the Mascot” mantra is somehow bolstered by the unfortunate concept only they themselves believe: That because a simple majority of their elected board has voted to keep the nickname/mascot their defiant group has, somehow, carved into stone and created a new 11th Commandment, and the rest of the world should get over it.
They expected the result of the original vote meant “Game Over!” and “outsiders” like Penobscot ambassador to the Maine Legislature, Maulian Dana, and former Penobscot Chief Barry Dana, and an ever-growing number of concerned activists like myself, should know to just go away.
The fact of the matter is that it does not matter what our names are or who we represent, the steady procession of protesters will continue to travel to Skowhegan until the winds of change have swept through and cleansed SAD 54 of its self-inflicted scarlet letter.
Inconvenient Truth No. 2 is that serious change is happening within the state and within the school itself.
When our “Not Your Mascot” movement first engaged the SAD 54 during the school year of 2014-15, there were still several Maine high schools — notably Wells and Nokomis of Newport — struggling with the issue. They were posturing as if their schools were standing behind a “generic” use of the nickname “warriors” when, in fact, everyone in the community more-than-tacitly understood that their nickname represented American Indian warriors. It took little effort to find “Indian head” characterizations if you wanted one. The ruse, finally, is up in both communities.
And there is a new sheriff in town: Newly-elected Gov. Janet Mills has already made a public declaration in support of our cause, calling for a change of nickname and mascot.
We remain hopeful that the Maine State Board of Education, too, will reflect this change in personnel and attitude in state government. To date, the LePage appointees to this board have refused to acknowledge their right to weigh in on any school situation and abrogated all responsibility to take a stand when a “safe learning environment” is in serious question. Under a previous board chairperson, we were told the board “could do nothing” about the controversy at the school, that it was an SAD 54 decision.
Mills has the opportunity to make appointments to this board where safety for students with diverse backgrounds is, finally, a matter of appropriate concern.
And then there is the turmoil inside the hallways of the school.
We have heard that a female student with a Native American heritage was called the vilest of names and intimidated for her desire to see her school’s nickname and mascot changed.
Further, even though the high school’s civil rights team was recently allowed to begin anew, it was not allowed to discuss the very situation confronting the school itself. That absurd determination, too, has recently been rescinded.
Some SAD 54 board members apparently still believe their board can do whatever it likes and lives, essentially, in a vacuum. But their house of cards is caving in, on all sides.
Ed Rice of Orono the author of “Baseball’s First Indian” and is director of a nonprofit, diverse organization dedicated to building a monument to Louis Sockalexis in Maine.