Skowhegan area school officials wanted to hear exactly why the use of the “Indian” mascot is offensive, and this week they got an explanation.

That explanation came not from one person or one group looking to make headlines, as some had suggested was the case in the latest effort to have Skowhegan Area High School change its mascot, but from 10 representatives from the four Maine tribes that make up the Wabanaki federation.

Now that school board members, and the community as a whole, has heard that explanation, it should be clear that the nickname meant to honor Maine’s Indians does just the opposite.

The Indian nickname may be a source of pride and fond memories for the school’s students and alumni, but for the tribes, the name distorts what it means to be Native American, dehumanizes them in the eyes of others, and ignores the reality of their history.

That should be enough to convince residents and the school board they shouldn’t hold on to the nickname based on a misplaced sense of tradition and heritage. The community’s connection to a school mascot shouldn’t be more powerful than the sincere objections of a group of people who have historically faced discrimination in Maine and elsewhere.

Clearly, not everyone agrees. A Facebook page set up in support of the nickname has more than 3,300 likes, and a silent protest outside the meeting between the tribal representatives and a school board committee drew about 40 people.

That leaves it up to the school board to take the lead, and convince the opposition that a change is necessary, and that their energy would be better put to use finding a school mascot that honors the town without insulting many of its past and present inhabitants.

That is all the tribes are asking. They are not asking Skowhegan to get rid of its town seal, which features an Indian spearing fish on the Kennebec River. They are not asking for the removal of the Indian statue in town, or of the image of an Indian painted on the gymnasium wall at the high school. They are not even objecting to the use of the word “Indian.”

They are merely asking that their identity and their culture not be reduced to a name on the front of a jersey.

That is a request that has been honored throughout the state. There were once dozens of Maine schools that used nicknames like Indians, Redskins and Warriors, along with Native American imagery.

But in 2001, Scarborough High School dropped the Redskins mascot, and others followed, so that by 2010 the number of schools with Native American nicknames was down to nine. By last year, it was down to three.

Since then, Nokomis and Wells high schools, both the Warriors, have moved away from using Native American imagery, leaving only Skowhegan.

That Skowhegan is the last to hold on to its Indian nickname does not say anything about the community’s character, except perhaps that it is more stubborn than most.

But what will reveal its character is how soon the community takes the tribal representatives at their word that the nickname is offensive, and works together to replace it.

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