Skowhegan Area High School is keeping the entire state from declaring that Maine is the first state in the country to end the practice of school use of Native American nicknames and mascots.

As one Skowhegan school official recently noted, sadly, “We have a target on our backs.”

With schools dropping Native American nicknames and mascots all across the country, and after 28 other schools in our state have stopped the insulting practice, it is no longer a matter of “if” SAD 54 will eventually stop, only a matter of “when.”

Thus, it’s unfortunate a slim majority of the SAD 54 school board is so brainwashed by acceptable institutional racism that it fails to see it is making its own community into a statewide pariah with each successive embarrassing and humiliating headline, such as the recent one about “scalp towels.”

The residents of these communities and especially the faculty, staff and students of this school district deserve better.

They also deserve better than Thomas Desjardins, the state’s commissioner of education, who has stated bluntly this is not an issue of concern for him or any state education official.

And they deserve better than Martha Harris and her nine-member Maine State Board of Education, who abrogated responsibility claiming it was a “local control” issue and they had no voice, even though their very charter states it has the authority to “advise” the commissioner of education and the Legislature. It is this very board, in other states, that is paving the way to end school use of Native American nicknames and mascots. Sorrowfully, however, that won’t be the case in Maine.

And what about this board’s guiding principles that emphasize ensuring a “safe” learning environment for students “in which they feel respected.”

“Safety” concerns? Yes, we should remain concerned about the nine students with Native American backgrounds who are in the Skowhegan system, which has to be considered a “hostile” environment given the controversy.

And, yes, the “Not Your Mascot” campaign talks constantly about and frequently references the recent, well-publicized American Psychology Association study which definitively states that all students — not just Native American students — suffer adversely from the use of Native American nicknames and mascots.

Unfortunately, we continue to look to adults for help with change, but, maybe, we should look to the students.

This may be an instance in which students can teach adults an important lesson about civil rights and lead the way.

In some states, students have done this. Take New York state. In March of 2013, the Cooperstown Central School Committee voted to change its nickname and mascot after students at the school themselves voted for change. The Oneida Indian Nation was so impressed by those students it made a large donation to that school system.

Maybe SAD 54 could create a civil rights team and let it blaze the trail. Maybe Skowhegan student-athletes themselves could follow the example of Zach Queenan, the young man who put up the “Save the Mascot” website and then courageously saw a very different side of the issue and switched sides. These student-athletes could join other students of conscience and sign a petition, requesting change.

Actions like this would help SAD 54 recapture its good name.

Of course, there is another not-so-pretty scenario, perhaps a more likely one, involving students from other schools. What if SAD 54 starts losing its athletic opponents, in protest, like the school in Lancaster, N.Y., did?

In March, the Lancaster High School board suddenly voted to change the school’s nickname and mascot when three schools they regularly compete against in sports all canceled lacrosse matches as a protest.

A boycott of athletic contests with Skowhegan? Have that start occurring and see how fast SAD 54 changes its nickname and mascot.

I laughed when I read a supporter of the SAD 54 “Save the Mascot” group write this about a proposed boycott of a Skowhegan athletic contest on social media: “Great. We win by forfeit.”

Surely, only an ignorant human being like this man could believe this kind of protest, this condemnation of the SAD 54 community and the resulting statewide and even possibly nationwide negative publicity, would be any kind of “win” for Skowhegan Area High School.

Ed Rice of Orono, a journalist and adjunct college instructor, is the author of “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis: Penobscot Legend, Cleveland Indian.” He has a website at

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