SKOWHEGAN — A Penobscot woman from Indian Island delivered on her promise of a petition Thursday night to the local school board, saying it was time for the district to “do the right thing” and drop the “Indians” nickname and sports team mascot.

Saying in her petition that “it is not an honor to have your heritage worn as a costume,” Maulian Smith presented the signed document to the board and to School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry.

Smith was accompanied Thursday night by a few friends for moral support and supported by area residents Lisa Savage and Mark Roman, both of Solon, who displayed signs calling for the “retirement” of the Indian mascot. One woman in the audience had on a Skowhegan Indians sweatshirt, and there were a couple of black and orange caps, but no outward show of support of the nickname until student David Grace stood to tell the board he is a Native American and proud to be a Skowhegan Indian. Grace, a Skowhegan high school junior, said he has been a wrestler and played football and studies culinary arts.

“Being a Skowhegan Indian has made me proud of my heritage,” he said. “I’m just like any other student — just I have Indian in me and I’m proud. I’ve never been scared and no one has been saying racist comments or any names with me being a Native American.”

Smith, founder of the Facebook group Not Your Mascot Maine, said uses of Indian nicknames “dehumanize Native Americans and mock our culture and identity.” She and others say the use of the term is racist and has no place in Maine Schools.

The online petition by Thursday afternoon had 926 signatures — signers are from Maine and beyond — and Smith said they are shooting for 1,000.


The petition also is to be sent to Martha J. Harris, chairwoman of the Maine Board of Education.

In the petition, Smith cites a 2005 study by the American Psychological Association that called for the retirement of all American Indian mascots in American schools and colleges. The APA noted that research shows that the continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images, and personalities has a harmful effect not only on American Indians students, but all students.

Skowhegan is the last high school in Maine to use such images.

In an 11-9 vote last May, the school board decided to keep the Skowhegan Indians nickname after public forums with the four tribes of the Wabanaki confederation and residents who support and oppose changing the name.

The call from Native Americans has been: “We are people. We are still here. We are not mascots.”

Lisa Savage, a teacher at nearby Carrabec High School in North Anson and the school’s civil rights team advisor, stood to tell the board it was time to drop the Indians nickname. She said her family has lived for generations in Skowhegan and that she was wearing her father’s high school class of ’51 sweater.


“I think you’ll notice there are no mascots on it,” she said, turning to show the audience the black sweater with an orange S on it.

Tim Downing, chairman of the SAD 54 board of directors, said before Thursday’s meeting that he sees hope in the progress being made with discussions and educational programs at district schools, such as Native American Recognition Day presentations at the high school on March 18; but he also said he doesn’t anticipate the name being changed soon.

Downing, who was among board members who voted to change the Indians name, said Tuesday, “I would consider it an educational process that continues.

“There was a vote last year and you had folks that were not pleased with the results, and they’re passionate about the issue; so they continue to press on with information that they feel is relevant to the issue, and we have to respect that,” he said.

Downing said earlier this week that he is not suggesting that the issue is not worthy of discussion, but given the school board vote last year and subsequent elections of new members who support keeping the name, “there is a realism to this situation” that indicates that another vote would not change anything.

Skowhegan resident Cecil Gray stood Thursday night to tell the board that he grew up in the South, where in the 1960s there were lynchings and church burnings. He said those events were finally solved, but it took “a higher hand” to stop it.


“Here in 2016, I get a few of those butterflies in my stomach when I hear an issue like this come up,” Gray said. “I am utterly dumbfounded that a simple cultural request like this is not been honored.”

He said if the issue of the Indians mascot is not resolved locally, then another “higher hand” may have to step in and stop it here, too.

Maine’s Indian tribes, like those elsewhere in the nation, have said over the past decade that Indian logos and mascots at the state’s schools are offensive representations. The petition comes two years after the issue of using Native American images and names as school mascots was revived at the school.

Others in the community, including a majority of SAD 54 board members, are holding fast to their belief that keeping the Indians mascot name is their heritage and what they say is their way of channeling the power and strength of the people who first settled on the banks of the Kennebec River, which runs through Skowhegan. They say the Skowhegan Indians team name represents the town’s heritage — a history that’s even reflected in the town’s Abenaki name.

Neither side is budging in the debate, which in the last year has turned ugly with charges of racism, insults and intimidation.

Not Your Mascot Maine is an Facebook group open to the public and displays postings from support groups including Christians Against Native Mascotry, and


Area residents who want to keep Skowhegan the Indians have their own Facebook page, — Skowhegan Indian Pride — but it is closed to the public. Jennifer Poirier, a member of the SAD 54 school board, is the founder and administrator of the page. The Facebook cover photo is says “Rah, rah, rah — pride is always our commander, loyalty our aim. We honor love and cherish our dear name.”

The page has more than 1,300 members and area stores have displayed signs supporting Skowhegan Indian Pride.

Neither Poirier nor any other members of the school board spoke during Thursday’s presentation.

Savage also has written to the Maine Principals’ Association recently, saying the Skowhegan situation is one of “institutional bias, even racism, on the part of a public school system in Maine. Language and imagery which insult a group of people is unacceptable even in the private sector — on the part of a publicly-funded institution created to educate all the young people of a community, it is deeply disturbing.

“It is my opinion that some of these practices, particularly the racially motivated threats of violence are, in fact, civil rights violations under Maine law.”

Harold Bigelow, of Skowhegan, a vocal supporter of keeping the name who was elected to the school board June 9, has said that he and others who support keeping the Indians nickname are not racists, but local people sticking to their pride and heritage. He has said he will continue to support the Indians nickname for as long as there is opposition to it.


Bigelow did not speak Thursday night.

Members of Maine’s tribes say use of the name and related images is an insult to their heritage and an affront to the history of the region, where tribal members were slaughtered and forced to move from their ancestral home so white Europeans could settle the land and enjoy the abundance it offered.

“While we understand that well-meaning folks truly believe they are honoring our people with these images, we do not feel honored and want their use to be discontinued,” Kirk Francis, chief of the Penobscot tribe, wrote in a letter to the SAD 54 school board last year.

Francis said “sports team mascots and other imagery … are offensive to and objectify Native people.”

The president of the Greater Bangor Area NAACP in February 2015 formally asked school officials in Skowhegan to stop using the Indian name and image as a mascot for sports teams.

NAACP President Michael Alpert wrote in a letter to district officials that his organization is dedicated to “universal civil rights and to the eradication of all forms of racism” — including use of the Indian mascot, which he called a symbol of racism.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.