SKOWHEGAN — The next time a high school sports team takes to the field, the court or the track they will do so as the Indians, just as they have for years.

After months of debate among school board members, students and the community, the School Administrative District 54 school board voted Thursday night against changing the use of the word “Indians” to identify sports teams.

The board voted 11-9 against changing the name, which has been a point of debate for years but only recently gained momentum before the school board.

“It’s not a surprise,” said Barry Dana, a former chief of the Penobscot tribe in Maine and a resident of Solon. “This is a process we’ve been engaged in for a while.” Dana and other members of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes have been meeting with school officials in the district over the last few months and have asked that they no longer use the word “Indians” to identify sports teams.

At Thursday’s meeting, several residents and school board members spoke in favor of both keeping and changing the name.

“The Skowhegan Indians is our heritage,” said Skowhegan resident Harold Bigelow, recalling the experience of being a parent of student athletes. “Wherever we went, we had ‘Skowhegan Indians’ written on the side of our van. We sold T-shirts that said ‘Indians.’ When we said ‘Skowhegan Indians,’ we meant Skowhegan heritage — all the parents getting together and saying ‘We’re beat; who’s going to take the kids tomorrow?’”


“I’m concerned with all of our students, including the nine Native American students in the district,” said school board member Jane Arthur. “I find it very upsetting that any of our kids are going to school feeling threatened because of this issue.”

A number of board members also said they had received threats — that they would not get re-elected or that the school budget would not be passed — if they voted a certain way, they said.

“We’ve had a lot of pressure,” said Noella DesPres, another board member from Skowhegan. “I’ve gotten a lot of nasty emails. It’s time for it to be over.”

The vote — which was taken twice, once in a roll call and once with a simple raising of hands while the audience watched intently — was followed by an eruption of cheering from many people gathered in the middle school cafeteria.

Outside the meeting, some district residents expressed disappointment at the outcome, while others applauded the board’s decision, which followed a public forum on Monday in which the board spent more than two hours listening to input from the public about the issue.

“I think it’s disrespectful and it’s a tragedy,” said Roger Renfrew, of Skowhegan. “I was hopeful after Monday’s meeting, but this is a disappointment.”


Nicole Ferrara, a 2008 graduate of Skowhegan Area High School, and her mother, Donna Wyman, said they were relieved that the board had decided to keep the name and that the word ‘Indians’ was never meant in a derogatory way.

“It’s supposed to be a community thing,” said Ferrara, of Waterville. “I’m glad the community supported the name today. It has never been about being negative or making anyone feel left out. It’s about banding together.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

Comments are no longer available on this story