It could not have been an easy decision, but the Skowhegan-area school board did the right thing Thursday night.

Facing a community that is bitterly split over the issue, the School Administrative District 54 board voted 14-9  to “respectfully retire” Skowhegan Area High School’s Indian nickname, reversing an 11-9 decision in favor of keeping the mascot made four years ago.

In doing so, board members showed they genuinely had listened to everyone who in recent years testified sincerely how the mascot was offensive and damaging — starting with official representatives from Maine’s four tribes but also community members, educators, the Episcopal Committee on Indian Relations, the ACLU and NAACP, and, most recently, the Maine Department of Education and Gov. Janet Mills.

They joined other shools across Maine that have shown they can listen — that they can set aside the biases and blind spots of their own experiences in order to appreciate the world as seen by someone with a very different point of reference.

For many Mainers, the idea that something as frivolous and mundane as a high school mascot could be offensive was difficult to understand. But minds were changed as Natives and others put the nicknames in context, shining light on how the ongoing use of the mascots falls in line with the broader mistreatment and dehumanization of Natives — in fact with the dismissal of their culture.

The case against Indian mascots was made up and down Maine, and school officials and community members took it to heart. All the work led to the vote on Thursday in Skowhegan, which made Maine the first state to altogether eliminate Native American mascots and imagery from its scholastic sports.

It started in Scarborough, which dropped its “Redskins” nickname in 2001. In 2003, Old Town, once the Indians, became the Coyotes.

By 2010, there were nine high schools left using such mascots. Wiscasset and Sanford, both formerly the Redskins, changed their nicknames in 2012, becoming the Wolverines and the Spartans, respectively.

In that time, too, the word “squaw,” derogatory toward Native Americans, was finally removed from the names of all public places in Maine — but not until 11 years after a state law directed the removal.

In the last few years, Wells and Nokomis high schools, both the Warriors, have phased out the use of Native American imagery, leaving only Skowhegan as the last holdout.

Thursday’s vote doesn’t mean the work is over, however — not even in Skowhegan, where the leader of a group formed in support of keeping the Indians nickname said the vote did not represent the “will of the majority of the community.”

That’s a shame, but not surprising. The four-year-long fight over the mascot in Skowhegan has metastasized — it has become personal and hostile. Supporters of the “Indians” nickname long ago stopped taking the arguments made by other side in good faith. They said the mascot was meant to celebrate, not mock, Native Americans — and that was that.

But while pride in one’s community and its history is part of the debate, it is not the end of the argument. Whatever the intention behind them, Native American mascots are hurtful, insulting, and reductive toward Indian cultures.

That’s the case that was made before one school board after another, and it was uncomfortable for many people to hear.

But in the end, by acknowledging the harm done by Indian mascots and agreeing to move forward in a better spirit, Maine communities did the right thing. In the end, they listened.

Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topics.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.