Once, there were more than 30 Maine schools with Indian mascots and nicknames. Now, there are none after a vote Thursday night by the Skowhegan area school board to drop their high school’s Indians nickname.
The Skowhegan vote, which was 14-9, came after years of debate and protests. It also came a week after the Maine Department of Education encouraged school districts “to refrain from using mascots and logos that depict Native American tribes, individuals, customs, or traditions.” 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 as well because of the damage they can do to tribal members, especially young people.
We applaud the SAD 54 school board for devoting numerous meetings to this issue over the years and for remaining open minded to both the concerns about and appreciation for the Indian nickname and mascot. We especially commend the board for hearing the concerns of members of Maine’s Native American tribes.
These concerns were straightforward: Indian team names and mascots are not respectful. Instead, they are offensive and hurtful to many members of Maine’s Native American tribes. Put another way, 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.
Fourteen members of the SAD 54 board cut through years of debate to reach this conclusion.
“The vote went as it should,” board member Derek Ellis of Skowhegan said after the vote, the Morning Sentinel reported. “We can’t rewrite history, but we can make it.”
Skowhegan did make history Thursday night. With the vote, Maine will become the first state in the country to end the use of indigenous names and mascots in its schools, according to the ACLU of Maine.
“This is an historic moment for Skowhegan and our state,” Emma Bond, a staff attorney for the group, said in a statement Thursday night. ”By retiring the harmful mascot, the town of Skowhegan is forging a bold new legacy of leadership,” she added.
The movement in Maine away from harmful native mascots and nicknames began in 2001, when Scarborough High School dropped Redskins in favor of Red Storm. The Husson Braves became the Husson Eagles. The Old Town Indians are now the Old Town Coyotes. Wiscasset High School went from Warriors to Wolverines and Sanford High School stopped using Redskins in favor of Spartans.
More recently, schools including the Wells-Ogunquit Community School District, Nokomis High School in Newport and Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook stopped using an Indian head logo with their Warriors nicknames.
It is significant that Maine ended this chapter of its history without lawsuits or legislation. A bill now pending in the Legislature to ban Native American mascots in public school thankfully appears moot.
Skowhegan area school board members, along with others who made similar changes across the state, can be proud that when their fellow Mainers explained why their team mascots and nicknames were offensive — and did not honor Native Americans — they listened and made appropriate changes.