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Indians Mascot At Issue In Skowhegan As School Board Agrees To Public Forum

Susan Sharon
Maine Public
Opponents and supporters of the Skowhegan High Indians mascot attend a school board meeting on the issue Thursday.

The school board representing MSAD 54 narrowly approved a motion Thursday night to hold a public forum in January to consider ending the use of Skowhegan High School's Indians mascot. It's the last mascot of its kind in Maine. Members of the Penobscot Nation, the Passamaquoddy Tribe and other tribes in Maine say the mascot is offensive and want it retired. They're asking the board to take the action three years after a similar request was rejected. 

Residents remain deeply divided over the issue.  Judi York of Skowhegan says she worries it could lead to erosion of the town's cultural identity.

"Our town name is an Indian word. Do we have to change that?" York said. "Our town logo brand is an Indian fishing. A person fishing should not be an offense. Do we have to change that? Our town even commissioned a famous artist to build a sculpture to honor our heritage. Shall we burn that down?".

These symbols, York says, are part of a heritage based on respect for native people who were the area's first residents. 

But Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, said there's a distinct difference between the town's symbols and the high school mascot.

Credit Susan Sharon / Maine Public
Maine Public
Maulian Dana speaks out against the use of Skowhegan High's Indians mascot at a school board meeting Thursday.

"I want to talk about the name Skowhegan.  I want to talk about the statue," Dana said. "Those things aren't using our race as a mascot. Those things are not dehumanizing us. There was native heritage in this town and that's where the name comes from. An appropriate way to honor the heritage is to change the mascot."

Maine Gov.-elect Janet Mills and the ACLU of Maine are the latest to express their support for ending use of the Indians mascot. 

During a packed school board meeting Thursday night, testimony on the issue was limited to just a few people.  A public forum in the high school gymnasium is now scheduled for Jan. 8 when more people are expected to weigh in from both sides.