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Debate over Skowhegan’s ‘Indians’ mascot pits neighbor against neighbor — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Debate over Skowhegan’s ‘Indians’ mascot pits neighbor against neighbor — Mid-Maine — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

Emily Burnham | BDN

Emily Burnham | BDN

A big crowd gathered on the RSU 54 faculty board assembly on Thursday to precise help for and opposition to the varsity’s Indian mascot.

By Emily Burnham, BDN Employees •
December 10, 2018 1:06 am

Thursday’s assembly of the Regional Faculty Unit 54 faculty board unfolded in the identical method numerous different faculty board conferences in Skowhegan have in recent times: It began with a prolonged, impassioned debate concerning the district’s mascot, the Indians.

A vocal phase of residents need to hold it, saying it represents years of city heritage. One other, equally vocal phase of district residents, alongside many extra Native American individuals and organizations, stay firmly against the identify, arguing that it’s racist and demeaning.

The talk continues to be removed from settled after Thursday’s assembly within the final faculty district within the state to retain a Native mascot.

Arguments have frequently erupted on social media in recent times, and other people on each side of the difficulty have made threats of violence. Final week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine issued a press release condemning the continued use of the Indians mascot, and Gov.-elect Janet Mills weighed in earlier than Thursday’s faculty board assembly, writing in a letter to high school board members that she supported the mascot change.

Finally, the board determined to carry a public discussion board Jan. eight to permit extra individuals to talk on the difficulty, although it’s unclear whether or not a vote will happen. Faculty board chair Dixie Ring and Superintendent Brent Colbry didn’t reply to requests for remark. Absent a faculty board vote, supporters of a mascot change say they’re beginning to take a look at legislative choices.

A troublesome historical past

The city of Skowhegan’s historical past with Native peoples — particularly, with the Norridgewock tribe of the Abenaki — stretches again centuries, and like many shared histories between Native individuals and Europeans, it’s fraught with violence.

Most notably, in 1724, a minimum of 30 Norridgewock Abenaki individuals have been massacred by white settlers in what’s now Skowhegan. A lot of the remaining Natives who lived alongside that a part of the Kennebec River fled east, to what turned Penobscot tribal lands, although there are nonetheless individuals dwelling within the Skowhegan space who can hint Native ancestry again by means of these generations.

Regardless of that violent previous, Skowhegan — an Abenaki phrase that roughly interprets to “watching place for fish” — has, centuries on, come to include Native imagery into its id as a city. The 62-foot sculpture of a Native American, created by sculptor Bernard Langlais and erected in 1969 to commemorate each Maine’s 150th anniversary and Native peoples, is an icon of the city. The city seal includes a Native individual. And the varsity mascot is an Indian.

“Our town name is an Indian word. Do we have to change that? Our town logo is an Indian fishing. A person fishing should not be an offense. Do we have to change that?” Skowhegan resident Judi York stated on the assembly. “Our heritage in this town is based on respect for the people who lived here before. Do we obliterate all reference and acknowledgement of the people who lived here?”

[Opinion: Indian mascots do not honor us]

Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation and maybe probably the most outstanding voice on the mascot situation statewide, stated that a faculty mascot is totally different from a piece of public artwork, or a city seal, or a city identify that comes immediately from the Native individuals who lived within the space 300 years in the past.

“The statue was commissioned specifically to honor the Native heritage here. The word is a Native word,” Dana stated. “That is a very different thing from a sports mascot.”

Jennifer Poirier, a faculty board member and the moderator of a mascot-supporting personal Fb group referred to as Skowhegan Indian Delight, takes concern with characterizing her help of the mascot as racist. It’s a tribute to Native individuals, she stated, and individuals who need it to vary merely don’t perceive that.

“Anyone voicing support for the name is labeled a racist or said to be uneducated, because their opinions are not the same as those pushing for change,” stated Poirier, who stated she has acquired threatening messages from these against the identify. “People can choose to see negative and feel offended, or they can choose to see the honor, pride and good intent of the Skowhegan Indian name.”

Courtesy SAD 54 | BDN

Courtesy SAD 54 | BDN

Official emblem of Skowhegan Excessive Faculty that includes Indian determine.

The which means of ‘pride’

The talk illustrates how highly effective a factor faculty delight could be, one thing Mills alluded to in her Thursday letter. For many who have generations of household which have attended a specific faculty, a big a part of one’s id is wrapped up within the day-to-day actions of the varsity — teachers, arts and, typically most strongly, in sports activities.

Poirier, who has youngsters in Skowhegan faculties, stated that what different cities select to do makes no distinction to her.

“What other towns chose to do is not our concern,” she stated. “Skowhegan has a much deeper connection to the Indian name as can be seen throughout the town.”

However, greater than 30 Maine faculties over the previous 15 years have both retired their Native-themed mascots altogether or modified the imagery to take away all references to Native peoples, together with most lately Newport’s Nokomis Excessive Faculty, which is dropping the Native American imagery tied to its Warriors mascot.

[‘It’s been a very long time coming’: Group reacts to high school mascot proposal]

One of many first districts to vary it mascot was RSU 34, previously MSAD 34, which includes Previous City, Alton and Bradley. In 2006 and 2007, it eliminated its Indians mascot and changed it with the Coyotes.

Previous City faculties had maybe the most important incentive of any faculty district in Maine to make the change, because the Penobscot Nation’s Indian Island — considered one of 4 reservations in Maine and the state’s most densely populated — is only a bridge away from Previous City, and lots of Indian Island youngsters attend Previous City Excessive Faculty.

On the assembly on Thursday in Skowhegan, Skyler Lewey, an Previous City Excessive Faculty sophomore and Indian Island resident, spoke about her twin id as an Previous City scholar and a Native individual.

“We all grew up on the reservation, on Indian Island. We all know what racism is like,” stated Lewey. “You are Indians for four years. We are Indians for our whole lives.”

For Skowhegan, the mascot concern first got here up within the late 1990s, when members of the American Indian Motion requested the board to vary the mascot for the primary time. In 2000, the varsity removed its giant “Indian head,” a caricature of a Native individual worn as a headdress throughout sports activities video games. The varsity later stopped utilizing imagery of Native individuals, and it launched curriculum about Native People into the classroom.

The identify stays, nevertheless, even after continued strain over the years from mascot foes, and a number of other faculty board votes. The newest one was in 2015, when the board voted 11-9 in favor of protecting it.

Courtesy Skowhegan Space Chamber of Commerce | BDN

Courtesy Skowhegan Space Chamber of Commerce | BDN

The Skowhegan Space Chamber of Commerce canceled a “Hunt for the Indian” occasion and can cease promoting picket Native American collectible figurines.

A handful of incidents have infected the difficulty in recent times, together with a December 2017 vacation buying promotion by the Skowhegan Space Chamber of Commerce that inspired consumers to “hunt the Indian” and search for a Native American figurine in an area enterprise; those that discovered it will get a buying low cost. In 2015, a Skowhegan Excessive Faculty baseball coach posted an image of a “scalp towel” on Fb, an merchandise used throughout video games within the 1980s by Skowhegan sports activities boosters.

“It’s not like these are arbitrary racist things. In the 1800s there was a historical bounty on Indian scalps, issued by the U.S. government,” Dana stated. “There is a historical context that is still real to us. It’s just tone deaf.”

Although there are numerous in Skowhegan who favor protecting the mascot, there are lots of who would really like it to vary.

Emily Burnham | BDN

Emily Burnham | BDN

Members of the Skowhegan faculty board vote to approve a public discussion board on the mascot challenge, to be held on Jan. eight, 2019.

Sue Cochran, an area physician and former faculty board member, stated that whereas everybody, professional or against, comes from a spot of affection for the group, the very fact stays that so long as the mascot is in use, Native individuals are harm by it — whether or not the harm is intentional or not.

“The problem is that a large number of people in this state, who are direct descendents of those first peoples here, experience our representation of them in this way as profoundly demeaning and disrespectful,” Cochran stated. “Our use of their image and name for our mascot is also what I consider as taking from them, yet again.”

What occurs subsequent

Dana says she has met with quite a lot of leaders in Augusta and with members of Gov.-elect Mills’ group to debate potential laws enacting a statewide ban on Native American mascots or a decision opposing them. States together with California, Colorado, Michigan and Oregon have already handed such bans.

[Tribal ambassador renews name for Skowhegan faculty to drop ‘Indians’ workforce identify]

“We really want them to do it voluntarily, but if they won’t, we’re ready to pursue legislation of some sort,” Dana stated of the Skowhegan-area faculty district. “But we are hopeful that this can get done by the board, so that doesn’t have to happen.”

Mills wrote in her letter that no matter what does or doesn’t change, that she believes it isn’t the mascot that provides a group delight — it’s its individuals.

“[C]hanging your mascot does not change you as a people,” she wrote. “You are what makes the fabric of this community strong.”