SKOWHEGAN — Sports teams and students in School Administrative District 54 will continue to identify themselves as the “Indians” after the school board voted against changing the nickname Thursday, but some school officials and name-change advocates say the issue is not over and agree that more education should happen.

The district’s 23-member school board narrowly voted to reject dropping the use of the word “Indians” following months of debate on the issue. Maine tribes say nicknames and mascots such as “Indians” and imagery related to Native Americans are derogatory and disrespectful and should be removed from schools and sports teams. But many people in the school district say the Indians name is representative of local heritage and is an important school tradition intended to honor Native Americans.

The board’s decision to vote Thursday came as a surprise to some, including Barry Dana of Solon, former chief of the Penobscot Nation, one of the four tribes that make up the Wabanaki federation. Dana said he was disappointed with the outcome and thought the process was rushed leading up to the vote, which was held less than a month after two public meetings about the issue.

“It’s a highly emotionally charged issue,” SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said Friday. “Obviously people are very passionate on both sides, and I think they wanted some resolution on it. I don’t think they wanted it to linger on.


Dana said he plans to redirect his energy to national efforts to end the use of Native American names and imagery as sports mascots. SAD 54 is one of two school districts in Maine to retain a nickname that invokes Native American heritage.

“I’m really big on process,” Dana said. “I would not expect a full 23-member board to all be able to fully comprehend the entire situation based on the amount of time we’ve had in this process for education. The whole process was cut short. I never advocate jumping to making a decision until all the information is presented.”

There is one vacancy on the SAD 54 school board, and two members – Jessie Roderick of Skowhegan and Roger Stinson of Norridgewock – were absent at Thursday’s vote.

Stinson said Friday that he would have voted against changing the name. “I was called by a lot of townspeople and I’ve talked to a lot of people,” he said. “It was 11-9, and it would have been 12-9 if I’d been there.”

Roderick could not be reached for comment.

Under the district’s voting system, which weights board members’ votes according to the population of the towns they represent, the motion technically was defeated 482-391. Most of the votes against changing the name came from board members outside Skowhegan: The votes were 315 yes and 212 no among Skowhegan board members, and 46 yes and 281 no from members in other district towns.


Liz Anderson, chairwoman of the school board, said Friday the board’s decision to take a vote came as a result of mounting pressure from the public and the need for the board to move ahead with other work, such as the budget. Anderson, who voted in favor of changing the nickname, said she thinks the issue will come up again.

“I feel like at this point we’ve done everything we were supposed to do,” Anderson said. “We listened to both sides intently, we checked into the legalities of everything and we went through the democratic process.”

Representatives of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmac tribes told a school board subcommittee April 13 that the use of the word “Indians” is an insult to them. Members of the four tribes, as well as the Bangor NAACP and others, want the name changed, saying the tribes are people and that people are not mascots.

At a forum Monday attended by more than 60 people, the school board allowed district residents and state legislators to speak about the issue.

Several board members spoke Thursday night about the dozens of emails and phone calls they had received, as well as some threats – that they wouldn’t be re-elected for voting a certain way, that the school budget would be rejected or that the recently refurbished Bernard Langlais Indian sculpture, an icon in downtown Skowhegan, would be harmed.

“There was a lot of pressure from both sides on the issue,” Colbry said. “I think the board was very plain about that themselves. I can’t second-guess what they decided to do.”

Valerie Coulombe, a board member and a supporter of the Indians nickname, set up her home voicemail with a message supporting the name and asking those who do not to not call back. She said the board faced pressure from both sides that made it hard to come to a decision.