SKOWHEGAN — Opposing sides are set to converge at Thursday night’s school board meeting in the long-running debate over use of the nickname “Indians” for sports teams at Skowhegan Area High School.

The meeting of the School Administrative District 54 board is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the middle school cafeteria.

One group, calling itself Skowhegan Indian Pride in a closed Facebook group, led by school board member Jennifer Poirier, insists that using the name “Indians” is done with respect, honoring the people who lived and fished along the banks of the Kennebec River in Skowhegan. It is not mocking or disrespectful, they say.

“It is important to understand that this issue is not about right or wrong,” Poirier writes in a Facebook post shared by Lisa Savage in her blog went2thebridge. “It is an issue about feelings! Our name was given to honor original inhabitants of our town. People can see feelings from a dark perspective or they can celebrate what our Skowhegan Indian name stands for. Honor, courage, integrity, bravery and nothing but good intentions.”

Poirier goes on to encourage supporters to attend Thursday night’s school board meeting to “show support for the Skowhegan Indians.”

Equally passionate opposing the use of the nickname are Lisa Savage and her sister Hope Savage, both eighth-generation Skowhegan natives. They say actual Indians — Native Americans — find the name to be racist and offensive.

Listen to the Native Americans who want to change the nickname, Hope Savage wrote in a letter she read to the school board in November.

“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,” she wrote. “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.”

There also is a Facebook petition being circulated for signatures demanding that the school board drop the nickname.

SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said he had been hearing that there may be two groups that want to attend the board meeting Thursday. He said people are welcome to attend but cautioned that there might not be a lot of time for them all to speak.

“Regarding protocol, this topic is not on the agenda and there is no scheduled public hearing or special opportunity to present for Thursday,” Colbry said in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “Under the section of the agenda called Communication — Visitors, there is a limited opportunity for the public to speak. This is reserved most commonly for someone wishing to comment on an agenda item. This time is not an opportunity for a hearing or extended presentation.”

He said if a large number of people wish to speak, board Chairwoman Dixie Ring, of Canaan, would ask each group to select one or two designated spokespersons to represent them. And if the board determines that there is sufficient need to provide a longer period of time for further comment, the board can decide to hold a special board meeting for that purpose at a future date with ample notice, at which there would be a greater opportunity for people to speak.

“In any event, I would not expect the board to take any action on the issue Thursday other than whether or not to set a meeting for further comment,” Colbry said. “This would be up to the board as a whole. I know the board is committed to maintaining an orderly process on any matter it may be considering, giving citizens the right to express themselves in accordance with school board policy.”

Debate over use of the name raged before the SAD 54 school board voted 11-9 in May 2015 to keep it.

Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador and founder of Not Your Mascot, Maine Chapter, Facebook group, told the school board in November that Skowhegan is the last high school in Maine still to use Native American imagery or names for its sports teams.

It’s time to retire the name, she said.

“We don’t want special rights. We want equal rights,” Dana has said. “If any other race was degraded in this way, it would not be tolerated. These mascots are not only hard for us to deal with on a superficial level; the way that they dehumanize us translates to racist attitudes and behaviors against us. Racism is an illness and mascots are a symptom, but when the racism is not validated by an institution, it carries far less impact and consequences.”

Some members of the school board continue to say that the school dropped the mascot in 1990 after being asked to do so, but continues to use the name “Indians” because that’s who they are. They say the board voted on the issue and that the case should be closed.

John Dieffenbacher-Krall, chairman of the Episcopal Committee on Indian Relations, recently wrote in a letter to Colbry, Ring and the SAD 54 board of directors, asking the district to discontinue the use of Indians as the Skowhegan High School mascot.

“The Episcopal Diocese of Maine comprises more than 10,000 people in 59 churches and ministries across Maine, including All Saints in Skowhegan,” he wrote. “We stand with the Original Peoples in pursuit of justice, allied against racism, affirming their inherent sovereignty, and committed to their ability to live and practice their culture as they determine it.”

The church was echoing the Bangor chapter of the NAACP, which in 2015 asked the district to drop the nickname.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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