SKOWHEGAN — Students from three area high schools have been invited to participate in a symposium that celebrates Wabanaki culture Thursday at the Margaret Chase Smith Library.

The goal of the symposium at the River Road library, organized by Kennebec River Voices, is to educate students about the history and culture of the Wabanaki, which means “People of the Dawn Land” and comprises Maine’s four tribes, the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac.

Goals also include discussion for understanding “current issues and ongoing challenges” facing indigenous people in Maine.

Library Director David Richards said seven or eight high schools were invited to the symposium, and three agreed to send students — Skowhegan Area High School, Upper Kennebec Valley High School in Bingham and Carrabec High School in North Anson. He said the focus of the symposium is to provide information on Native American culture and is not designed to draw attention to ongoing discussion concerning the sports nickname and mascot at Skowhegan Area High School.

The high school is the last school in the state to have an Indians nickname. Various groups, particularly those representing the Wabanaki, have been pushing the school to get rid of it. Those supporting the nickname say it’s meant to honor the Indian heritage of the area and is a tradition for school alumni.

Kennebec River Voices is a volunteer organization that aims to encourage civic discourse and provides venues for education about issues of diversity. “Activities are planned to stimulate learning, to foster curiosity about and respect for the cultural diversity that exists today in our communities,” said member Susan Cochran, of Skowhegan, the medical director at the University of Maine at Farmington Student Health Center.

She said the symposium will serve as a “building block” for each school’s educational requirements to teach about Wabanaki history.

The key presenter Thursday is scheduled to be John Bear Mitchell, a member of the Penobscot tribe and associate director of the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine.

“He is an engaging and experienced educator, who has a creative way of blending lessons with story telling,” Cochran wrote in letters to school principals.

Invited to the symposium are school staff members and five to eight students in grades 9 through 11 “with an interest in this topic and a willingness to bring their learning back to the school,” the letter said.

Cochran said she expects about 30 students to participate in Thursday’s event.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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