SKOWHEGAN — Members of a local group who want the school board to vote again on changing the “Indians” nickname for high school sports teams presented a letter to the board Thursday night asking them to do just that — vote again.

Retired medical doctor Roger Renfrew of Skowhegan read the letter aloud for the full school board, saying the district should show respect for Native Americans who say use of the nickname is insulting and respect their wishes to retire the name.

“As citizens of the communities in SAD 54, we call on the Board of SAD 54 to discontinue the use of the term ‘Indians,’” the letter, signed by more than 20 area professionals, including doctors, lawyers and educators, reads. “We request establishment of a robust educational program devoted to study of the history and culture of local Native Americans as well as cultural sensitivity to all people who might be seen as ‘others.’ In addition we encourage the school’s Civil Rights teams to take leadership in expanding awareness of local Native Americans and their unique challenges.”

Dr. Roger Renfrew reads a letter Thursday requesting that the school board again address changing the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School, during a Regional School Unit 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Junior High School.

School Administrative District 54 is made up of the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

The letter, addressed to SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry, school board Chairman Tim Downing, of Smithfield, and the board in general, states that the recent Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce business promotion called “Hunt for the Indian” offered a chance “to help heal the wounds inflicted upon Native Americans who have lived on the banks of the Kennebec for centuries.”

The chamber quickly withdrew the promotion after a barrage of complaints on social media, apologized and promised community meetings with Maine’s Native American tribes.

Nicole Carter argues Thursday against changing the mascot of Skowhegan Area High School during a Regional School Unit 54 school board meeting at Skowhegan Junior High School.

The SAD 54 board voted 11-9 to keep the “Indians” nickname in May 2015 after several public meetings and a forum with Maine’s four remaining Native American tribes.

Renfrew, who is part of the effort to get rid of the “Indians” nickname, said before the meeting that he doesn’t know how much outward support there will be for change because people are intimidated.

“I don’t know numbers. There are people who are intimidated about speaking up,” he said. “Some of them are teachers. Some of them are small-business people. Small-business people don’t want to lose business, and teachers think they shouldn’t be speaking up. I don’t know exactly why.”

The letter goes on to say that Skowhegan’s future is evolving. New businesses have planted roots in the area.

“A new economy centered on our natural resources, farming and the arts is growing,” the letter reads. “We are an attractive town with a downtown which has been steadily improving over the past two decades. Yet we are perceived by people across the country as racist because of the use of the Indian mascot. As the chamber recognized, this has an adverse effect on our economy and potential for continued growth.”

After Renfrew spoke Thursday night, Skowhegan parent Nicole Brown asked the school board not to take another vote to change the name of the sports teams. She said the school board vote two years ago was supposed to be final, and going back now would be unfair.

“I’m not angry. It just frustrates me that they took a vote, and to me — even when you vote for the president, you’re unhappy with who we got if you’re a Democrat, or if you’re Republican — we both have different sides, and one is going to win,” Brown said after the meeting. “Why can’t the other just let it be?”

Resident Sean Poirier noted that recently a Native American student attended school in the district and was not offended by use of the nickname “Indians.”

“In fact, he was honored by it,” Poirier said.

The school board heard the statements and will decide later how to proceed.

Dr. Roger Renfrew reads a letter Thursday saying, “We call on the Board of SAD 54 to discontinue the use of the term ‘Indians.’ Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Earlier Thursday, Barry Dana, of Solon, a Penobscot elder and former tribal chief, said use of the nickname is racist and he welcomes the change if it ever comes. He said acts such as the “Hunt for the Indian” promotion will continue as long as the community supports the Skowhegan “Indians” as a nickname.

“To have local people of the school’s community unite against this is very empowering and shows the real strength of the Skowhegan people,” he said. “It’s time to end the racism and do better for today’s school community and all future school generations. If there is to be real civil rights in this country, then no better place to model it is in our educational institutions. Almost all schools in Maine have already taken the lead on this. It is time that Skowhegan does the same.”

Debate in Maine over using Native American images and nicknames dates back to at least 2001; and nationally, back 40 years. The dialog is always the same: Locals feel pride in their heritage of naming sports teams after brave and noble Indians, while the actual Indians insist that using them as a mascot is insulting and demeaning, even racist.

The first Maine school to change was Scarborough High School, in 2001. The school dropped “Redskins” in favor of “Red Storm.” Husson University eliminated the “Braves” nickname and became the Eagles. Wiscasset High School and Sanford High School eliminated the “Redskins” nickname. Wiscasset teams are now known as the Wolverines, while Sanford athletes are the Spartans. In Old Town, the nickname “Indians” was dropped and “Coyotes” was adopted.

Wells High School continues to use Native American imagery, as does Skowhegan.

SAD 54 school board member and former town Selectwoman and County Commissioner Lynda Quinn said this month that the nickname “Indians” is all that is left from the bad old days of insensitivity.

“We got rid of that mascot in 1990,” Quinn said last week. “We all agreed that the little running Indians were a caricature, were insensitive and it wasn’t right. That was when we painted all that stuff out from the cafeteria, from the gymnasium, on the football field — we took care of all those caricatures. We retired the costume that somebody used at games. The only logo the high school has now is the Indian on the riverbank spearing fish, which kind of goes with Skowhegan.”

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2001 called for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-native schools, saying that “references, whether mascots and their performances, logos, or names, are disrespectful and offensive to American Indians and others who are offended by such stereotyping.”

” … the Commission believes that the use of Native American images and nicknames in school is insensitive and should be avoided. In addition, some Native American and civil rights advocates maintain that these mascots may violate anti-discrimination laws. They are particularly inappropriate and insensitive in light of the long history of forced assimilation that American Indian people have endured in this country.”

The SAD 54 letter agrees with the commission, noting, “The time has come for a change; the time to talk is now. If we truly ‘honor’ Native Americans we need to respect their wishes and end the use of the Indian mascot. We also need to reach out and establish a bilateral conversation about culture, history and heritage.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow