THUMBS DOWN to the slow pace at which Skowhegan school officials are addressing concern over the continued use of “Indian” as a mascot and nickname.

The issue resurfaced again this week, as Michael Alpert, the president of the Greater Bangor Area NAACP, sent a letter asking school officials to drop the mascot. That follows multiple calls to do the same by members of the Native American community.

Skowhegan officials say a “small conversation” with tribal representatives is in the works. But that seems like a way to delay confronting what is no doubt going to be a contentious debate by the school board, which would have the responsibility for changing the nickname.

The feelings of the Native American and minority communities about this issue are clear, as clear as they have been in each of other many instances in which a mascot containing Native American imagery has been dropped in Maine over the last decade or so.

Here is what Alpert wrote in the letter: “The implications of cultural violence embedded in Skowhegan High School’s nickname and mascot are deeply offensive to native people. Just as important, the nickname and mascot degrades your community’s standing. This is a problem that, with good will, could easily be resolved. In fact, this is an opportunity for your community to respect itself by coming to terms with the need for change.”

And here is what Barry Dana, a former chief of the Penobscot Nation, said this week: “Collectively the saying is, ‘We are not mascots — native people are not mascots.’ We’re proud of who we are, and we do not agree that we can be honored by anyone else other than ourselves. It is not up to another race, without our permission, to attempt to honor us through their perspective of what we are supposed to stand for.”

That’s what Skowhegan school officials will hear when they meet with Dana and other Native Americans. That is what other schools heard when they decided to change their nicknames, starting with Scarborough High School way back in 2001. That is what eight other high schools in Maine heard before they dropped mascots in the last five years.

Now, Skowhegan is the only one left. And the school will hear the criticism, and rightly so, until officials confront it head-on.

THUMBS UP to Cony High School in Augusta for winning a $200,000 grant to restart a worthwhile program that helps at-risk students stay in school.

Cony was one of just 30 schools nationwide to win the grant from the AT&T Foundation, which will fund three years of a Jobs for Maine Graduates program. Cony eliminated a JMG program some time in the early 1990s because of budgetary issues.

JMG has a tremendous track record. The four-year graduation rate is higher than 90 percent, and 96 percent of students enrolled in JMG return to school the following year. Following graduation, 85 percent of JMG graduates are either employed, in the military or continuing their education. For a population facing so many barriers to success, that is remarkable.

The program is also a bargain. It is funded through a mix of local and state funds and private donations.

There are now about 5,000 students in 79 JMG programs around the state. More schools want to join, and they could get that chance if additional funding can be found in the next state budget. With such a return on the investment, and so many improved lives, that would be money well spent.


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