SKOWHEGAN — Two Skowhegan-born sisters are calling for peace between opposing sides in the long-running debate over the nickname “Indians” for the high school sports teams, even drawing on the name of an opposition Facebook group for the new name.

“There’s a lot of names out there, but what I’m currently liking is Skowhegan Pride,” said Hope Savage, 59, who with sister Lisa Savage, 62, says their family dates back eight generations in Skowhegan. “I’d really like to pull those Skowhegan Indian Pride people into feeling happy and a part of things.

“They really see it as us against them, and it’s really not about that. It’s about not doing more harm. And it’s about making it easy for our kids and our town’s people, and I thought maybe pulling in part of their name would be helpful — Skowhegan Pride.”

Hope Savage of Skowhegan pauses to answer a question regarding her and her sister Lisa’s effort to have the Skowhegan Area High School board stop using Indian as a mascot on Monday. Staff photo by David Leaming

Savage was referring to the closed Facebook group called Skowhegan Indian Pride, which has nearly 1,600 members. The group was formed four years ago by school board member Jennifer Poirier, based on what members consider to be their heritage, tapping into the strength and prowess of the Native Americans who lived along the banks of the Kennebec River.

“We are a group that supports the preservation of the name Skowhegan Indians,” the Facebook page says. “Not just as our school’s name, but because it is a part of our town.”

The problem, say the Savage sisters and others, is that actual Native Americans find the name to be racist and offensive. They plan to attend the next meeting of the School Administrative District 54 board at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in the middle school cafeteria.

School board members who support keeping the nickname “Indians” have said the school got rid of the mascot of a whooping Native American in 1990, along with all the caricatures and imagery.

Dixie Ring, of Canaan, the school board chairwoman, said Monday that there would be no comment on the matter “at this time.”

Board member Jennifer Poirier, founder of the Skowhegan Indian Pride Facebook group, said school board members have agreed to direct all media questions on the subject to SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry.

Colbry did not immediately reply Monday for comment. After the previous school board meeting, Colbry said: “There was no comment. There was no action taken or discussed.”

Hope Savage said common ground can be found on the hotly contested issue with just one word.

“Listen,” she said.

Listen to the Native Americans who want to change the nickname.

“Listening is what I have to offer as a descendant of those who murdered, as a descendant of those who raped, of those who stole from the people living here long before we showed up,” Hope Savage wrote in a letter she read to the school board Thursday.

“Once I listened, I felt shocked at myself for being so oblivious to the pain of others. No, I didn’t create their pain. But I poked at it. Made it bleed a little each time I participated in dehumanizing them, turning them into a stereotype.

Hope Savage, right, gestures as she speaks about Skowhegan Area High School using Indian as the school mascot on Monday. Her sister, Lisa, is at left. The Savages and others are urging the school board to cease using Indian as the school mascot. Staff photo by David Leaming

“Turning them into a costume. Using them for my amusement and benefit. Do I feel guilty about it? No. Why? Because, once I listened, I changed. So as not to do harm to others for no reason, I changed.”

Names other than Pride have been suggested, including the Skowhegan Rapids, the Trailblazers, Islanders and River Watchers, for the name Skowhegan, which most say means “a place to watch” the sea-run fish that once jumped the falls in Skowhegan, where they could be speared by Native Americans for food.

At the previous school board meeting, Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador from the Penobscot Nation, also read a letter she delivered to the board, asking them to retire the nickname “Indians” for their high school sports teams.

“Your ‘Indian’ mascot is the last one of its kind in the state of Maine, which you share with five tribal reservation communities,” wrote Dana, daughter of one-time Penobscot Chief Barry Dana, of Solon. “Mascot use has been found to be harmful to children and creates an unhealthy learning environment as well as shaping their views of Indigenous people to be stereotypical and not based in reality which is problematic for their Indigenous peers and hinders their development.”

Maulian Dana, a resident of the Penobscot Indian Reservation near Old Town, hand-delivered her appeal to the school board, which in May 2015 voted 11-9 to keep the name, saying sports teams use it to honor their heritage and history along the banks of the Kennebec River.

Lisa Savage of Solon wears the Skowhegan Area High School football team sweater her father Mark wore during the 1950s on Monday. Savage spoke about the effort to have the school board cease using Indian as a mascot. Staff photo by David Leaming

Lisa Savage has worn a sweater to some of the school board meetings she has attended. The sweater was her father, Mark Savage’s football sweater, Skowhegan High School Class of ’51.

There is no nickname or mascot on the garment, sporting only an orange “S” on a black background. In a clipping from the Portland Press Herald reporting the undefeated Skowhegan football team dated Jan. 28, 1951, there is no mention of “Indians” or any other nickname, Lisa Savage said.

Two other women stood to address the school board last week. One parent, Skowhegan Area High School “booster mom” Julie Cooke, described the tension her daughter, a high school athlete, has experienced “over the racist name,” Lisa Savage writes in her blog called “went2thebridge.”

“They bought a special softball helmet for her so that she would not have to wear one that said ‘Indians’ on it,” Lisa Savage wrote. “Her friends stopped wearing their team t-shirts because whoever ordered them had ‘Indian Pride’ printed on the shirts without consulting the team.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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