SKOWHEGAN — Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana took to the stage Jan. 2 at the inauguration of Gov. Janet Mills in Augusta to thank her for her support in efforts to remove the “Indians” nickname from Skowhegan Area High School sports teams.

But Mills’ support might not reach beyond the Augusta city limits as two sides debate the rights and wrongs of maintaining the nickname, which many locals carry as an image of pride, and others see as racist, cultural appropriation.

Neither side is budging, and the local school board will have the final say.

The sides are set to converge Tuesday evening at a public forum hosted by the Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 board of directors. The forum is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the middle school gymnasium, but anyone who wishes to speak will have to sign up first.

Sign-up is scheduled for 5 to 6 p.m. Tuesday in the middle school cafeteria.

The snow date for the forum is Jan. 14, at the same times and location.


“I want to thank Gov. Mills for a genuine desire to listen during her campaign, for insight and conversation, for laughter and sharing advice,” Dana told the assembly at Mills’ inauguration. “I want to thank her for taking a stand on our behalf when it comes to Indian mascots in Maine before she even took office. I have great hope for our continued efforts to reach common ground and mend the bonds between the indigenous people of the state and the governing bodies.”

Mills weighed in on the discussion before a meeting of the school board Dec. 6, urging board members to carefully consider Native Americans’ feelings as the community again grapples with whether to retire its “Indians” nickname.

Mills sent a letter to the board before its regular meeting. In it, she acknowledged that decisions such as a proposed name change can be “difficult and emotional,” but said the “Indians” name has become “a source of pain and anguish” for Native Americans.

“Changing your mascot does not change you as a people,” she wrote.

But others, including school board member Jennifer Poirier, of Skowhegan, founder of the Skowhegan Indian Pride Facebook group, say the name is not racist and that all the offensive mascot images are long gone in Skowhegan, leaving only the name “Skowhegan Indians.”

She has said 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.


“I appreciate the input from Gov. Mills, but the ‘Skowhegan Indian’ name is a local issue,” Poirier said Friday. “The governor shouldn’t be choosing sides and should represent all the people of Maine. In contrast, I have been elected to represent a select group (on the school board).

“I look forward to hearing from all speakers at the forum. My stance on the ‘Skowhegan Indian’ name has always been reflective of our district students and my constituency.”

The debate over the “Indians” nickname has raged for years, culminating with a vote by the school board in May 2015 to keep the name.

Dana 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.


But others fear a loss of local identity. The town seal is a depiction of a Native American, and there is a large mural of an Indian spearing fish at the falls on the Kennebec River in Skowhegan, the name of which is itself an Indian word most believe meaning “a place to watch” the spawning sea-run fish.

Then there’s the iconic sculpture of a Native American by Maine artist Bernard Langlais, dedicated in 1969, standing 62 feet tall just off the downtown parking lot.

Some Skowhegan Indian Pride supporters fear all that could be lost to some replacement name, such as eagles or lions, which they say has nothing to do with local history and heritage or with them.

Dana disagrees, saying the identity of the community and its history are not the same as the mocking and disrespectful use of “Indians.” She also takes issue with the question posed as the topic of discussion.

The announcement of the meeting lists the question: “Why should the district support or not support a change to the use of the Indian name and seal?”

Dana said the seal has nothing to do with the nickname or the mascot.


“The goal for our side is to remove the Indian as the school mascot,” she said. “The statue and other items are not on the table at all. There is a difference between honoring the history of a place and stealing the identity of a group of people.”

Speakers from both sides of the issue will be allowed to speak for two minutes each, but the speakers must have signed up to be allowed to address the school board. The board will not vote on the question at the forum.

Anyone wishing to submit written testimony in advance of the meeting is encouraged to do so.

All comments should be directed to the board, and speakers are asked to follow rules of decorum. Anybody who uses obscenity or vulgar language, makes defamatory statements about individuals or groups, or disrupts the meeting will forfeit time to speak. Any person who fails to comply will be asked to leave, according to a public statement in advance of the forum.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.