SKOWHEGAN — The staff attorney for American Civil Liberties Union of Maine on Wednesday sent a letter to the school board chairwoman and the superintendent of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 urging them to “do the right thing” and drop the “Indians” nickname.

In the letter to board Chairwoman Dixie Ring, of Canaan, and SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry, attorney Emma Bond urges the district to “listen to Maine’s tribal leaders and retire the Skowhegan Area High School mascot,” according to an email from Rachel Healy, ACLU of Maine’s director of communications and public education.

“Despite extensive efforts by tribal representatives to convince Skowhegan officials to drop the ‘Indians’ mascot, the school board last voted in 2015 to keep it,” Healy said. “The committee is expected to hear input from the community again at their meeting tomorrow, Thursday, December 6.”

The ACLU asserts that the team name and logo perpetuate damaging stereotypes about indigenous people.

Supporters in a closed Facebook group called Skowhegan Indian Pride insist that they can “celebrate what our Skowhegan Indian name stands for. Honor, courage, integrity, bravery and nothing but good intentions.”

They say all the early “Indian” mascot imagery was dropped in 1990, leaving only the name.

Not so, Bond says.

“The very people whom the mascot’s proponents claim to be honoring are telling them to drop the mascot,” Bond said in the letter. “It’s time for Skowhegan to do some serious listening to the people who are being harmed by this painful tradition.”

The ACLU notes that studies have shown using indigenous people as mascots lowers the self-esteem of native students and teaches students that racial stereotyping is acceptable. In 2005, the American Psychiatric Association publicly called for “the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots” because they teach “misleading, and too often, insulting images of American Indians.”

More than 100 civil rights, educational, athletic and scientific organizations have made similar statements, according to the letter.

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

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

The Portland-based ACLU cites Penobscot Nation tribal ambassador Maulian Dana, who wrote: “We have said this does not honor us. We have said it is harmful. Experts have backed us up on both claims. Elders, tribal leaders, students, scientists, reformed Indian mascot lovers, politicians and people from every walk of life have made strong cases for dropping the Indian mascot.”

Skowhegan Area High School is the last high school in Maine to use an indigenous mascot, the letter continues.

“Every single school district in Maine has said they no longer want to perpetuate this harm, except Skowhegan,” said Bond. “Now Skowhegan has another opportunity to do the right thing.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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