SKOWHEGAN — Next week, Skowhegan Area High School students will return to a building that looks a little different than it did when they last occupied it. The large mural — of a Native American spearfishing — on the gymnasium’s wall is now a canvas of white cinder blocks. No longer will a “Home of the Indians” sign greet visitors as they turn off of Norridgewock Road and head down the school’s driveway.

Per a controversial school board vote and subsequent state law, the school has retired its “Indians” mascot and nickname. And according to Principal Bruce Mochamer, the district has “absolutely not” chosen a replacement.

“It will take a good chunk of time (to settle on a new mascot),” Mochamer said Monday.

The School Administrative District 54 school board will discuss next steps at its meeting on Thursday at  7 p.m. in the Skowhegan Area Middle School cafeteria. Mochamer noted that the process of selecting the new symbol will involve the board soliciting community input, then paring down options. SAD 54  includes Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

“To move on, we need a fresh start,” said School Board Member Derek Ellis, who represents Skowhegan.

The state Legislature voted to ban Native American mascots from its public schools and universities in April, becoming the first state in the country to do so. During hearings on the topic, several members of the state’s Native American populations explained that the use of such symbols did not honor them, but rather promoted a legacy of racism.

In downtown Skowhegan, the effects of the decision that polarized the community can still be felt. David Folsom, of Folsom & Sons Auto, said he plans to keep the “We are the Skowhegan Indians now and forever” sign hanging above his office window on Island Avenue “as long as I am here.” The business’ parking lot was the site of several protests of the movement to change the high school’s mascot earlier this year.

“As far as participating in renaming the mascot: no (I won’t), because I don’t believe in it,” Folsom, a graduate of Skowhegan Area High School, said.

David Folsom said that he will keep his “Skowhegan Indians” sign outside his business on Island Avenue despite the mascot changing. Morning Sentinel photo by Meg Robbins

The news of the Native American mural being painted over frustrated him.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with their issues,” he noted. “That was artwork donated by one of their students, and it should have stayed.”

Next door at Absolutely Graphic, which makes custom screen-printed and embroidered apparel, there is hardly a trace of the high school’s past. One of the only signs left hanging congratulates the Skowhegan football and field hockey team without mentioning their former nicknames.

“We don’t want anything to do with it,” explained a store employee who declined to provide her name. The woman also said she would not discuss the economic impact the area’s lack of school mascot has had on the store, which used to sell “Indians” spirit wear.

“The question of whether it was art is irrelevant,” Ellis said. “When we voted, the way it was worded was that we would stop using the ‘Indians’ name and Native American-related imagery. That includes the mural or any reference to Native Americans in any way. … We can’t make exceptions.”

Superintendent Brent Colbry was not available for a comment on Monday. In emails previously obtained by the Morning Sentinel between Colbry and members of the SAD 54 school board, the superintendent indicated that the cost of changing the mascot would be between $20,000 and $25,000.

Ellis said that Colbry asked the principals of each of the district’s schools to identify anything in their buildings relating to Native Americans so that they could be removed over the summer. He noted that the changes should not come as a surprise to the community.

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