SKOWHEGAN — A meeting between Skowhegan school officials and Indian tribal leaders on use of the “Indians” mascot and nickname for sports teams has been indefinitely postponed because of the media attention it’s received.

Brent Colbry, superintendent of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, said the issue has become a broader community one and now the public should also be involved.

Colbry said he told Barry Dana, a former chief of the Penobscot tribe, about the decision Friday.

Dana said Sunday he accepts the decision but added, “this issue will not go away.”

Colbry said in November that school officials would meet with those who are asking that the mascot be changed, including Dana, after the new year.

That meeting never happened and “would not seem to be a viable option at this time to achieve the original intent,” Colbry said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “It would appear that the discussion needs to include the community at large not just the school community.”

Dana of Solon, said Sunday, “I am certain they are acting in the best interest of their students and community.”

“However, this issue will not go away, so long as the school continues its use of ‘Indians’ as its name and native imagery to accompany its sports logos.”

Board Chairwoman Liz Anderson, of Skowhegan, said school board members agreed to assess what the best venue would be to discuss the issue.

“The school board is aware that some are finding our Indian name offensive, while others are passionate about the pride we have in that name,” Anderson said Sunday. “The school board has not refused to meet. We are working on how to best address concerns of all communities.”

She added that the board “has heard a great deal of feedback as a result of the media attention that there is a greater interest from the community at large in this issue.” SAD 54 comprises Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

Dana and others in the state, including University of Maine professor Ed Rice and the Greater Bangor NAACP, have said that Skowhegan’s use of an American Indian image as a sports mascot is offensive.

Dana said the concept of native heritage celebrated by American people is not shared by native people, considering “white people massacred, murdered and made and broke treaties with my Abnaki ancestors.”

“We are not mascots — native people are not mascots,” Dana said Feb. 9 after the Morning Sentinel reported that the Bangor chapter of the NAACP had called upon Skowhegan to stop the practice.

Dana said that along with the NAACP, “I have heard from many people on this issue who agree that institutionalized racism needs to end.”

An editorial Friday in the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal criticized school officials’ slow pace in addressing the issue.

“There seems to be a need to step back for a bit to see what the best approach would be to broaden the discussion to include the communities’ interest and voice in the issue,” Colbry said in the email. “The board remains very interested in the concerns of Native Americans regarding the issue but needs some time to determine what the best course would be to move forward in light of the level (of) interest and concern that has been expressed by the community.”

Bangor area NAACP President Michael Alpert, in letters to Colbry and Skowhegan high school principal Monique Poulin that accompanied copies of a petition calling for a change, said that his organization is dedicated to “universal civil rights and to the eradication of all forms of racism” — including use of the Indian mascot, which he called a symbol of racism.

Others in Skowhegan and elsewhere don’t see it that way. Some say it is a way of respecting the people who lived for centuries on the banks of the Kennebec River, which runs through Skowhegan. Many also say it is an important school tradition.

A Facebook page, “Keep Skowhegan the Indians,” was created Tuesday, the same day the Morning Sentinel reported on the Bangor NAACP letter and has generated more than 3,000 “likes.”

The originator of the page, described in a page post as a student-athlete, would not identify him or herself Sunday. Apparently addressing critics of the school mascot, the page creator says they fail to see that the mascot “wasn’t adopted because of a favoring of a certain race over another, but because of the Native people of the land that we call home.”

Dana, though, said it’s not a matter of being honored.

“We’re proud of who we are, and we do not agree that we can be honored by anyone else other than ourselves,” Dana said earlier this month. “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.”

Several Maine high schools and junior high schools already have dropped Indian nicknames in recent years, leaving Skowhegan as the one holdout.

Defending use of the school mascot, Colbry has said the American Indian imagery goes beyond the school and encompasses the town of Skowhegan and the history and heritage of the region.

Colbry said the school board will stay in contact with Dana and others, and will let them know of any future plans for discussion.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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