We don’t think whoever gave the greenlight to the Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Hunt for the Indian” business promotion meant any harm. In fact, that’s part of the problem — that the people who came up with the promotion were so removed from the consequences of this exceptionally poor idea that they couldn’t see the obvious.

It’s a blindspot particular to bias against Native Americans, who are misportrayed unlike any other group in polite society.

It’s the same blindspot that allows for misused imagery and stereotypical antics at athletic events to be dismissed as harmless fun, or for a team called the “Redskins” to sell millions of dollars of merchandise every year. People just can’t see what’s wrong about it until someone else tells them. And even then, many don’t want to hear it.

That’s what happened to a large degree two years ago when representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes told Skowhegan officials that the public schools’ Indian nickname was insulting to them.

But residents and school officials against any change said the tribes instead should consider it an honor. Some of the worst among them said the tribes were being overly sensitive, or that the effort was just political correctness run amok.

In any case, the tribes’ arguments were dismissed.


The same lines are being drawn in Wells, where a committee is looking at the high school mascot following an incident at a football game.

Wells takes the field as the Warriors, playing under a press box featuring the logo of a Native American in a feathered headdress. After a game last month against Lisbon, the mother of the opposing quarterback — a Micmac — said she was dismayed at the actions of some Wells fans who were wearing “war paint,” banging on drums and making whooping sounds.

It’s hard to see such a scene occurring with any other minority group; it’s hard to even write what that would look like without being incredibly offensive.

But for Native Americans, that’s just another Friday night under the lights.

Wells students and community members appear split on the issue. Some want to jettison the Native American imagery used by the teams, or even the Warriors nickname altogether.

Others, though, just as in Skowhegan, say that no harm is meant. Quite the opposite, they say — the nickname and all that comes with it are only used to honor history, both the schools’ and the region’s.


They don’t explain why Native Americans get such little say in how they are represented or how it makes them feel. They don’t say how, exactly, running around in costume makeup banging a drum is supposed to honor anyone, or how a mascot is supposed to unite a community — its real purpose — when it is offenseive to some members of the community.

In all likelihood, they don’t say these things because they haven’t thought much about them. We are all guilty of living too much in our own bubble — that is especially true for white people in a largely white state, as well as for issues related to Native Americans, a group often overlooked.

It’s the lack of awareness that leads someone to come up with a “Hunt for the Indian” promotion and not see immediately how history, both recent and far in the past, make that a horrible idea.

Over and over again, it’s a case where people simply cannot imagine how their actions and words offend others. Too much of the time, they aren’t even willing to listen to those who want to explain it. That’s a shame — they could use the lesson.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: