SKOWHEGAN — A meeting of a subcommittee of the local school board and representatives of the four Indian tribes of Maine’s Wabanaki confederation is set for Monday to discuss the continued use of the image and name “Indians” for high school sports teams.

The meeting of School Administrative District 54’s education policy program committee with members of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes is set for 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of Skowhegan Area Middle School.

A “silent protest” in support of keeping the “Indians” name and imagery is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. outside the school.

At issue is not the town seal — an Indian spearing fish on the Kennebec River — or even the image of an Indian painted on the wall of the high school gymnasium, said Barry Dana, of Solon, former chief of the Penobscot Nation. At the heart of the matter is using the name “Indians” as a sports mascot, a nickname or good luck charm.

Those in the Skowhegan area who support continued use of the name 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.

“We Skowhegan Indians are not a mascot by any means, not a costume removed after a game, or something you can wash off,” Skowhegan resident and sports parent Harold Bigelow said in a letter to the Morning Sentinel in March. “It’s our heritage, the history of our town and all its hard-working taxpayers who proudly support our teams.”

Others, lead by Dana, say Native Americans are people and that using Indian images as mascots, logos and nicknames does the opposite of honoring them. They want the name changed.

Dana, and others representing the Wabanaki — the federally recognized name for Maine’s four tribes, meaning People of the Dawnland — 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 their ancestors.

Dana said members of the Indian delegation hope to show committee members how and why use of the name “Indians” is offensive.

“Part of the process going forward, working with the school, is the education process where tribal people are coming into Skowhegan and educating them,” Dana said Friday.

Dana and SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said other members of the school board may be present for the meeting along with members of the public, but none will be allowed to speak. The meeting is open, but not open to public comment.

“It’s their meeting, we’re guests,” Dana said. “The tribal reps will speak as to what the committee is looking to hear — what do they want to hear from us and we’ll be happy to respond to that and we’ll talk. I think it’s very important that we stay focused on what the intent here is. Our part is to request the school to drop the ‘Indians’ nickname and to help them understand why we wish for that.”

Dana said the focus is on the nickname and any imagery associated with sports. He said the painting of the Indian on the gymnasium wall was part of an art project decades ago and has become a nonissue, as has the 62-foot Langlais art sculpture of an Indian in downtown Skowhegan.

Colbry said the full school board voted March 19 to allow the standing education policy program committee to meet with tribal leaders. There are 11 board members on the committee.

“This is the long-awaited meeting we’ve been talking about since last fall,” Colbry said. “They’re going to have an opportunity to share their concerns, ideas and thoughts, and then we’re going to share with them some information we’ve gathered up to show them what we do currently around those issues they are concerned about.”

Colbry would not speculate what will come of the meeting, but said a vote is not scheduled Monday night. The committee is charged with reporting back to the full school board, as would any sub committee.

A group that supports a Facebook page called Keep Skowhegan the Indians will hold a “silent protest” at 5:15 p.m. before the meeting begins. The page, established by Zachary Queenan, 17, a home-schooled Skowhegan senior and track and field athlete, has generated more than 3,300 “likes” since it was first posted.

The Facebook page appeared the day the Greater Bangor National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said that the Indian image used by Skowhegan as a sports mascot should be removed.

Such images and mascots already have been changed at many schools in Maine and elsewhere across the nation as awareness has grown.

Queenan encourages protesters to bring “respectable protest signs.”

“Any negative signs will be asked to be taken down by myself directly,” Queenan said. “We need to assure the citizens of this area that the celebration of their history won’t be stifled! Indian pride!”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow


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