© 2023 Maine Public | Registered 501(c)(3) EIN: 22-3171529
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The Rural Maine Reporting Project is made possible through the generous support of the Betterment Fund.

SAD 54 School Board Retires 'Indians' Name at Skowhegan High

Jennifer Mitchell
Maine Public
Supporters of a name change sat on the left, with those opposed on the right.

After years of contentious debate, votes, policy reversals, and almost 100 years of tradition, Skowhegan High School will no longer be allowed to use the name "Indians" as its mascot.

That was the decision made Thursday night at a special meeting of the SAD 54 School Board, though the issue continues to divide a community.

With police posted at each corner of the room, SAD 54 school board chair Dixie Ring read the results of the vote on whether to change the Skowhegan High School sports mascot name.

There was a brief silence, followed by both applause and shouts of “fake news.” Leonard Rose, who identifies as a member of the Narragansett Tribe, says he traveled up from Massachusetts to attend the meeting.

Rose says the controversy over schools using Native American imagery isn't an isolated local issue. He says it's a civil rights issue that has caused harm to Native people for too many years.

"I mean it's 2019. It's about time,” he says. “This has been (in) not only this community but several others. It's time that we stop using natives as mascots."

"I come from Turners Falls, Massachusetts, and we made the change in my town," says Sky Davis.

Davis says her local high school switched about a year ago from the "Indians" to the "Thunder." The cost of doing so, she says, was about $8000, covered mostly by fundraising efforts by supporters of the change. Beyond the name and image, she says nothing else has changed.

"The school is still succeeding, the kids are still doing well academically and the sports teams are still winning, even though we have a new name,” Davis says. “So, it's not about the name. It's about the school spirit and the people who live in that town."

But many in Skowhegan are deeply unhappy with the decision. After Thursday's meeting, supporters of the Indians name talked amongst themselves about what had happened. Many reassured each other that the issue was not over and that the decision was not binding. With five board seats expiring this year, a reversal might just be another election away.

Unlike Leonard Rose of the Narragansett, and Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana, who has been leading the charge for change, Passamaquoddy member Kathy LeBrun says she's never found the Indians name to be offensive, and she finds it frustrating that no one has ever asked Maine's native people to take a vote on the issue.

"We've never been asked, and I think that we should all be asked,” says LeBrun. “I mean we're all on the census. They should ask us how we feel. And that we could end it all, because a lot of us are not offended."

LeBrun says her kids all went to school in Skowhegan and none felt objectified or harmed, and she herself was a Skowhegan High School "Indian."

"This mascot meant a lot to a lot of people for a very long time," says Iver Lofving, who teaches art at Skowhegan High School.

Lofving, though, says he welcomes the change and see the creative possibilities.

"It's going to be fun for the kids, for the students, it's going to be fun for everybody to figure out a mascot, and somebody can wear a big goofy mascot costume and jump around and yell for the sports teams,” he says. “I don't I think — it'll take a while, but pretty quickly people will come together and have a fun time with this."

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Maine is applauding the board's decision and says that with the change, Maine is poised to become the first state in the nation where all of its schools have stopped using Native American mascots and imagery, a practice which the group maintains is damaging and demeaning to Native people.

Updated 3:10 p.m. March 8, 2019