The town of Yarmouth has removed a 90-year-old cemetery plaque that referred to Native American people as “savage enemies.”
Yarmouth Town Manager Nat Tupper said he did not know the marker existed, but that once it was determined that the plaque was a historical marker and not a gravestone marker, it was “not a complex matter to simply unscrew it.”
“The historical marker was brought to my attention by members of the community who were preparing to make a presentation of ‘Dawnland’ at the local library, and thought it was inconsistent with the message and intentions of today and values of today, and asked if I would remove it because the town owns the cemetery,” Tupper said.
The plaque was removed from the cemetery Feb. 7.
“It’s my understanding that this plaque was brought to their attention because of the derogatory language toward indigenous people and probably overlooked for many decades,” said Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, president and CEO of the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. “I was excited to see that when someone called attention to it, leadership in Yarmouth was willing to remove it.”
Maria Girouard from Wabanaki Reconciliation-Engagement-Advocacy-Change-Healing said that the fact that the community removed the sign so quickly offers hope.
“I’m pleased to hear the signage was removed and that it was done so swiftly and without a whole lot of fanfare,” Girouard said. “To me that type of signage just perpetuates these stereotypes of violence.”
Girouard noted that there are still other signs with similar language around the state of Maine.
“These markers are throughout the whole state of Maine, and you can see them, like outside the Fort Andross building in Brunswick, down in Castine has some very offensive language as well,” Girouard said. “You know it’s nice that people are feeling motivated, maybe other places will catch on and we can kind of see this wave of change happening.”
Katie Worthing of the Yarmouth Historical Society said that the sign will be archived for educational purposes.
“It’s now in our collection here, and we’ll be preserving it as a piece of local history and putting it on display as an effort to re-contextualize it and use it as an opportunity to discuss this uncomfortable history, acknowledge it, and hopefully start conversations about how to move forward in a more positive way,” Worthing said.
Regarding the decision to keep the plaque, Catlin-Legutko of the Abbe Museum said, “I always encourage my colleagues to enter those conversations readily and willingly. It will be really important for everyone involved to really do their research and understand why this language is problematic because a lot of audiences are catching up to this conversation because they haven’t been educated around Native history in a way that’s full and complete with the truth.”
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.