SKOWHEGAN — The school district sent out letters this week to families stating that some Ku Klux Klan flyers have been distributed in the community and that school officials will not tolerate hate speech and bigotry, a revelation that comes a day after Waterville KKK flyers were reported to police that are similar to ones distributed earlier this year in Augusta, Gardiner and Freeport.

Meanwhile, though, reports of the KKK flyers in town are stirring new tensions over another controversial issue — the Skowhegan school board’s refusal to drop the “Indians” school mascot name — with Native American leader Barry Dana, of Solon, saying the board’s decision illustrates how the town “has this mentality within its community” among some people.

Dana said he realizes not all members of the community are bigots or racists, but “if the silent majority continues to allow the name ‘Indians’ to stand, then they maintain fertile ground for this type of hate and bigotry.”

Brent Colbry, superintendent of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, said letters were sent to the families of students in all seven district towns at the urging of Brandon Baldwin, program manager of the Civil Rights Team Project at the Office of the Maine Attorney General. The letters, penned by Assistant Superintendent Jonathan Moody, said the flyers were left on the driveways and doorsteps of some homes in Skowhegan and possibly some neighboring communities. Colbry said the schools in the district were not targeted with the flyers.

The letter to parents says the flyers “are a sad reminder that we can never stop educating our children about our country’s history and our fundamental belief that we are all created equal under the law.”

“We’ve taught our kids that bigotry and hate have no place in our schools or communities,” the letter states.

But Dana, onetime chief of the Penobscot Nation, said Wednesday that the school district can’t have it both ways — the community either supports hate and bigotry or it doesn’t. And keeping the “Indians” mascot is an insulting form of bigotry, Dana said, echoing arguments he’s made to the school board in recent years as part of the effort to get the school to stop using the nickname.

“The school and all those who support the unwanted use of the name ‘Indians’ against native people’s wishes are by virtue of doing harm to others, aligning themselves with such hate groups as the KKK,” Dana said. “Be it by intent or unintentional, the fact remains they are giving the KKK fertile ground in Skowhegan for racism.”

The SAD 54 school board voted 11-9 in May 2015 against changing the word “Indians” to identify sports teams, after many months of passionate debate.

In response to Dana’s comments, Colbry said he doesn’t see the appearance of KKK propaganda in Skowhegan and the matter of the “Indians” mascot as related issues.

“We were reacting yesterday to the KKK flyer; we were not trying to link those two things,” Colbry said Wednesday. “We were just reacting to the concern that this might be frightening to children and their parents. We weren’t focused on the issue of discrimination. Where I can see where people might link the two, we were not looking at it in that perspective yesterday. We were looking at trying to reassure parents and kids that they’re safe.”

School board member Richard Irwin, a 30-year veteran of the board who voted to keep the “Indians” name in 2015, agreed with Colbry.

“I think they are two completely different issues,” Irwin said Wednesday. “I don’t think one has anything to do with the other.”

The letter sent home to SAD 54 students Tuesday goes on to state that school officials “believe that it is fundamental to ensure that all our students and their families, regardless of their race, religion or background, feel that our schools are places where they are safe and loved.”

Dana said that targeting some children and their families with a racial mascot ultimately hurts all children and their families.

“The letter sent home to the parents was so convincing but, unfortunately, borders as hypocritical,” he said.

School board member Jennifer Poirier, who spearheaded the Skowhegan Indian Pride group in support of keeping the mascot name, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The KKK flyers were delivered in plastic bags, similar to the way others were found in other communities. The flyer appears to be a copy of the ones found in Waterville. The flyer is headlined “Traditionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan,” with a drawing of a figure in a white hood underneath. The words “Neighborhood Watch” are above an American flag. Beneath it, the flyer reads, “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.”

The flyer also lists a toll-free telephone number, which it says is a “24 Hour Klanline” people can call if there are “troubles” in their neighborhoods. Calling the number prompts a message in which a man thanks the caller for calling the Tradititionalist American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, asks the caller to dial a number “if you know your party’s extension,” twice gives its website address and closes with, “Thank you, and have a great white day.”

The hate group was once a driving force in Maine, a state where as recently as 1924 membership grew to 40,000 and buoyed itself on anti-Catholic sentiment. By 1930, though, only about 225 Klan members remained. KKK literature appeared in spots throughout Maine in the 1990s, but those were mostly isolated events.

Skowhegan police Chief Joel Cummings said it appears the plastic bags containing the flyers were weighted down with what he said look like fish tank stones, as was the case with flyers distributed in Waterville. Cummings said the Police Department has received five complaints about the flyers over the past three or four days.

“I was told people just wanted us aware of it and brought these into the Police Department,” Cummings said Wednesday. “Although this activity is protected under the First Amendment, the fact that these flyers are being distributed in the dark of night underscores the storied past of this organization and its wish to remain relevant.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.