SKOWHEGAN — A rally representing the four tribes of Maine’s Wabanaki federation is planned for Aug. 6 during Moonlight Madness, a part of Skowhegan’s annual six-day River Fest.

The organizer said the assembly is being called to support locals who object to the continued use of the word “Indians” as a sports mascot at Skowhegan Area High School.

The demonstration is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, at a location that has not yet been determined, said organizer Maulian Smith.

She said the purpose of the gathering is “to show support for the people there that want to change the last racist and offensive Maine high school mascot.”

Smith, of Indian Island, is human resources director at Penobscot Indian Nation Enterprises/Federal Program Integrators. She said Monday drummers, singers, dancers, historians, activists and speakers will provide information about the cause at the rally, and that 30 people already have committed to attend and to bring others with them.

“This is not confrontational, and we will not be disruptive or disrespectful,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to publicly show what indigenous people really are all about, and we are not mascots.”

Smith started the Facebook page Notyourmascot Maine Chapter after a year-long effort to convince the School Administrative District 54 board to change the name to something less offensive.

She said representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes — all members of the umbrella Wabanaki federation in Maine — support the demonstration.

Residents who want to keep the nickname say it is their heritage and honors the indigenous people who lived on the shores of the Kennebec River for hundreds of years. Those who oppose use of the Indians name say it is an insult to Native Americans, noting that protests are part of a national movement to drop Indian names as school mascots. Skowhegan Area High School is the last high school in the state to use an Indian name and imagery.

The SAD 54 school board voted 11-9 in May to keep the nickname after months of meetings and two public forums.

School board member Jennifer Poirier, who is the administrator of another Facebook page, Skowhegan Indian Pride, said she hopes the protest won’t be disruptive.

“Many board members have been contacted by numerous tribal members who do not share the views of the Not Your Mascot group,” Poirier said. “It is their right to protest. Let’s hope the Not Your Mascot group can do so in a respectful manner, unlike past performances. I urge all supporters, regardless of views, to keep in mind that Moonlight Madness is a family-oriented event.”

The river festival, which began in 1977 as Skowhegan Log Days and features fireworks, bed races, a lobster bake, canoe races and river rafting rides, is now a promotion for the proposed $4.5 million Run of River whitewater park in the Kennebec River Gorge through downtown.

Smith said the rally is “more a show of support” for area residents who want to get rid of the name “than any kind of protest or demonstration.”

“The main point here is there are a lot of people in Skowhegan that want to change the mascot and in the whole district,” she said. “I call it a rally — lending our support to the people there who are ashamed that 11 members of the school board are letting racism into the town.”

She dismissed Poirier’s reference to past disrespect, saying she was not showing disrespect when she stood to speak at a public forum in May to read a letter from Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot nation who authorized her to speak for the tribe. Smith was told that because she was not a resident, she could not speak at the forum. A Skowhegan police officer escorted her to her seat, but she would not sit down.

Smith said the Maine Not Your Mascot group is an official supporter of and affiliated with the National Not Your Mascots Inc. Their mission is to assist in the quest to remove Indian mascots through outreach and education.

“Our immediate concern in Maine is the last high school with an Indian mascot — Skowhegan,” she said.

John Bear Mitchell, Wabanaki Center Outreach and Student Development Coordinator and University of Maine System Native American Waiver Coordinator, said the demonstration will be a learning and a teaching opportunity.

“Any kind of social awareness is beneficial to the message, and the message in this case is to end a very negative imagery associated with the word Indian,” Mitchell said. “When it comes to mascots, we would like to have the final say as to whether or not it’s okay that our imagery to be played with.

“The school district should really be utilizing students in trying to find a more appropriate name that honors the history of that town and the surrounding towns.”

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry has said the American Indian imagery at the high school goes beyond the campus and encompasses the town of Skowhegan and the history and heritage of the region — the words Skowhegan and Kennebec are Indian words.

Barry Dana, of Solon, the former chief of the Penobscot nation and others representing the Wabanaki federation, has 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.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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