SKOWHEGAN — A public forum for the six towns of School Administrative District 54 will be held sometime in early May to debate use of the word “Indians” as Skowhegan Area High School’s sports nickname and mascot.

A date, time and location have not been set, SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said Friday.

The full school board heard from members of the education policy program committee on the topic Thursday night, he said. The committee hosted a meeting Monday night with members of four tribes that make up Maine’s Wabanaki federation, who say continued use of the word Indians by the district is offensive.

School board members agreed to hold a forum “where people could come in, sign up and they would have an opportunity to speak for some kind of limited amount of time for each person,” Colbry said. “We still have to work that out.”

The six towns of SAD 54 are Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan.

Subcommittee member Jenifer Poirier said she made the motion to have the forum so both sides could debate the question of a possible name change.

“I proposed a controlled environment where people can sign up to speak for or against a name change,” Poirier said. “There will be time limitations for speaking. The board will be there to answer questions and the Native Americans will be invited.”

Poirier said Thursday’s school board meeting was a “fairly quick discussion, and feelings seemed mixed.”

“The sense of urgency to do something one way or the other seemed highly evident,” she said. “A community forum should get things started.”

Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes told subcommittee members Monday night that the use of the word Indians is an insult to Native Americans, who long have suffered racial prejudice.

At the heart of the matter is using the name as a sports mascot, a nickname or good luck charm. Members of the four Indian tribes want the name changed.

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.

Those in the Skowhegan area who support continued use of the name say it is an important school tradition and disagree with the Indian representatives, saying it is a way of respecting the people who lived for centuries on the banks of the Kennebec River.

Before the meeting a group of about 40 local people dressed in the orange and black of the Skowhegan high school sports teams assembled in a silent protest outside the middle school. They carried placards, banners and pennants saying “Skowhegan Indian Strong” and “Skowhegan Indians — Our Heritage.”

Others who support the name change also attended the meeting, saying the “mascot must go.” Dana, who is an active voice in promoting Penobscot culture and history in Maine, said the heritage and the mascot image are two different things.

Indians are people, Dana has said, not mascots.

Discontent over the Indian mascot is not new for Skowhegan schools.

The school board’s Educational Policy and Program Committee voted in 2001 to keep the Indian name and propose a single American Indian symbol to represent the teams. The SAD 54 board had debated the issue for two years after receiving a letter from the American Indian Movement in 1999. The letter called the use of an Indian for the high school’s mascot offensive.

A committee of high school staff and students in 2001 also surveyed 800 students and staff and found the majority felt that the use of the name “Indians” was not disrespectful, although many of the American Indian symbols, including murals and a wooden sculpture in the cafeteria, did not reflect the tribes from the area.

Another problem was that a mascot head with oversized facial features had been used at athletic events. School board directors banned use of that head after parents complained.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.