An etching of Orono's seal sits, attached, to the Orono Town Council chambers on Sept. 13, 2021. A group commissioned by the council is calling on the town to change the seal. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

A special committee focused on diversity and racial equity in Orono is recommending that the town change its seal that depicts a Native American man in a headdress.

The recommendation from Orono’s Ad Hoc Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is among 10 suggestions the group has made focused on celebrating the history and traditions of the Penobscot Nation and sharpening the town’s focus on matters of racial equity.

The group, made up of Orono residents as well as social justice advocates and experts on race, was formed this past spring. It was charged with surveying the community and developing recommendations based on the survey results.

The committee is also recommending that the town establish a permanent board focused on matters of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and that the town more appropriately celebrate Penobscot Nation history and traditions.

“We like to celebrate and honor the history and traditions and diversity of Orono and particularly those of the Penobscot Nation and Wabanaki nations,” group member Deb White said. “We don’t celebrate them enough, and we need to make sure we are appreciative of them.”

Regarding the town’s seal, the group said in its report that a redesign is needed, and that the process should include specific engagement from the Wabanaki community.

On its website, the town says the seal respectfully depicts Joseph Orono and that the seal is meant to honor the chief.

“While we understand that the image may be misperceived by those unfamiliar with his story and our intention, we are confident that our seal is respectful,” the website reads.

The group also suggests that the town develop more community events, such as festivals, to better honor the Native American history of the land on which the present-day town of Orono sits. They also recommended that the town install signs that highlight elements of the Penobscot language and history.

Another recommendation from the group is that the town formally acknowledge how colonialism has affected Orono’s history. The group also wants the town to expand on a previously passed land acknowledgment resolution to include more details about the history of Orono and the Penobscot Nation.

The land acknowledgment resolution passed earlier this summer recognizes that the land the town sits on is historically that of the Penobscot Nation and encourages the council to more closely identify ways the town affects the tribe.

While its report detailed many possible next steps, the group said it needed approval from the Town Council to continue its work.

The council next needs to review the group’s recommendations and decide how to proceed, Council Chair Tom Perry said.

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...