SKOWHEGAN — A rally of Native Americans and supporters of retiring the “Indians” sports mascot at Skowhegan Area High School was mostly quiet Thursday night, but there was no doubt that two opposing camps were present during Moonlight Madness, a part of Skowhegan’s annual six-day River Fest.

Maulian Smith, who grew up and still lives and works on Indian Island in Penobscot County, organized the rally. She said the purpose of the gathering was to show support for Skowhegan-area residents who want to change what she called the last racist and offensive Maine high school mascot.

Smith, along with her father, Barry Dana of Solon, the former chief of the Penobscot Nation, and others stood around tables with printed educational material as Moonlight Madness roared around them. Later, about 20 people stood in a circle, passing a drum baton – a talking stick – and expressing their feelings on the sensitive issue.

When it was his turn to speak, Dana said the important part of Thursday’s gathering was to educate people that’s it’s not OK to first steal someone’s land, and then steal their heritage.

“It’s not a good thing for us to always have to explain to our children and then our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren why (Skowhegan teams) call themselves Indians,” Dana said. “That’s not how we’re honored. We still stand here seeking a relationship, seeking understanding, seeking a correct course of action because we owe it to our children and our grandchildren.”

Supporters of keeping “Indians” as the Skowhegan high mascot and name attended Moonlight Madness wearing T-shirts proclaiming “I bleed orange & black – Skowhegan Indian pride,” but none chose to stop and talk to the group.

Jennifer Poirier, a member of the Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 school board who in May voted against changing the name, wore the T-shirt, as did her husband. She said there was no need to stop and debate the matter, which has been a subject of controversy for months.

“That booth is for their supporters and they have every right to protest, rally, demonstrate, whatever you want to call it,” Poirier said. “That’s fine, but we have our right to walk around and do our community part as well. We’re not looking for any kind of conflict. We want everybody to stay respectful, and everybody has a right to their own opinion.”

Ron Gordon disagreed with what Dana was saying and began shouting.

“I’ve got as much right to speak as that man does,” Gordon said loudly. “He wants to misguide you. He has no business running off his mouth about the Indians. This landmark is an honor to the Indians to be named Skowhegan Indians. The name will never change.”

Maulian Smith, who is human resources director at Penobscot Indian Nation Enterprises/Federal Program Integrators, said she received some threatening messages before Thursday’s rally saying she’s not wanted in Skowhegan and that she “should be careful.”

“But I’ve also had a lot of encouraging messages, saying not to let that deter me,” she said.

Other than Gordon, there was no other disruption.

The issue of removing the Indians mascot and name from the last high school in the state to have them has been a contentious one, reaching a peak in May when the school board voted 11-9 to keep the name and mascot.

Letters have been sent by tribal leaders to the state commissioner of education and to members of the State Board of Education, to the SAD 54 school board and to the Maine Press Association.

The letters say the same thing: Please stop using the word “Indians” when referring to Skowhegan Area High School sports teams.

Doctors, lawyers, educators and business leaders have called on the school district to drop the name because it offends the very people it is meant to honor – Maine’s Indian tribes.

Others in the community, including many SAD 54 board members, are holding fast to their belief that keeping the Indians mascot name is their heritage and what they say is their way of channeling the power and strength of the people who first settled on the banks of the Kennebec River, which runs through Skowhegan.

Neither side is budging in the debate, which in the last year has turned ugly with accusations of racism, insults and intimidation. Members of Maine’s tribes say use of the name and images are an insult to their heritage and an affront to the history of the region where tribal members were slaughtered.

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