In the wake of board meetings, interviews, articles and the Jan. 8 forum in Skowhegan, I believe it is only fair for readers to hear the whole story (“200 people attend forum about ‘Indians’ mascot in Skowhegan,” Jan. 8).

Many local citizens in favor of keeping the Indian name are part of a 1,700-member Facebook group called Skowhegan Indian Pride. This is not a hate group, but a community who embrace and honor their heritage and culture, acknowledging Natives that fished the banks of the Kennebec River, even of those who lost their lives in the neighboring Norridgewock massacre, as well as honoring the native roots and blood of many current residents.

A detrimental misnomer in this controversy is that having our “Indian” name makes us racist. The Oxford dictionary defines a racist as a person who is prejudiced, discriminates, or has hostility toward someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. Ironically, if there is any race being elevated in this whole equation, it would be Native Americans, who are highly esteemed by both sides of this debate.

There is an attitude reminiscent of racism coming from the opposition. Many in our community are part-Native, with origins from tribes even outside this area. Some of the full-blooded Native leaders who want our name removed feel part-Natives are less than. Some comments made by accusers state how laughable and embarrassing it is for us to mention being part Native. A rhetorical questions posed was, “Which part is Native, their left toe or right ear?” A few Skowhegan part-Natives in the past had reached out to some of these leaders to gain insight into their ancestry, and were left to feel disregarded.

Being part-Native presents its own challenges — not having the pleasure of being banded together with our kinsman, stripped of a language, et cetera. Our family’s experienced the effects of the injustices to our lineage: self-esteem issues, fear, poverty, oppression and discrimination. No, I am not comparing myself to a full-blooded Native. I am saying, why toss aside those that are part of you? Are we forgotten? Are we given any voice or consideration?

The Indian name isn’t about these specific people who are against it. This is about our community, not just current tribes who feel they have ownership over us. Many locals have spoken of their lifetime here in Skowhegan and their connection to being a “Skowhegan Indian.” This school name doesn’t just affect the school system, it affects the whole community.

Is it possible that the resolve to keep our name may have greater depth? Is it critical that we are the last school standing in Maine? What if past Natives of this region and of our own bloodlines paved a way for them to be remembered here today?

Are all Natives against the name? A Sioux woman from North Dakota named Eunice Davidson who leads an organization called Native American Guardians Association reached out to us to express her support in keeping our name. Of approximately 4,000 people living on her reservation, she said around 3,800 support keeping Native names and images throughout the countries schools — they too do not want to be forgotten.

Those who call it a mockery are not living our day-to-day life here. Consistently inserted in the narrative is the term “mascot.” Yet, there is no mascot, as it was removed in 2000. The sporting events here in this community use no caricatures or exploitation of Natives. As I drive through Skowhegan and walk the corridors of our schools, it makes me sad at what has already been taken away, all the images of anything to do with Indians.

When I hear the word Indian I am reminded of my family, my roots. Some may argue that the word Indian technically is not the accurate term for Native Americans. Yet some fighting for our name to be removed, live on Indian Island and their school system is nicknamed the Indian Island Warriors. If it is a derogatory term, then why not start making change on their own turf first?

Ultimately, we are being censored and vilified. Instead, why not allow our name to embrace a people, to usher in having conversations about what has been done to all Natives. Use “Indians” for good, not as an excuse to silence.

The last line of the Skowhegan school song is, “We honor, love, and cherish our dear name.” We have to protect that.

Nichole LaChapelle is a resident of Skowhegan.

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