SKOWHEGAN — The years-long debate over whether Skowhegan Area High School should continue to use its Indians mascot and nickname is continuing despite a school board vote last May against making a change. The daughter of a former chief of the state’s Penobscot tribe plans to present a petition to the school board formally requesting that the district stop using the nickname.

Maulian Smith, daughter of former Penobscot Chief Dana Smith and founder of the Facebook group Not Your Mascot, said she will deliver the petition during the School Administrative District 54 board meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. in the middle school gymnasium. The online moveon.org petition had 876 signatures by Tuesday afternoon – signers are from Maine and elsewhere. Smith said the group’s goal is 1,000 signatures.

Skowhegan is the last high school in Maine with a mascot related to American Indian tribes. Critics say the use of such nicknames is demeaning to Native Americans.

Tim Downing, chairman of the SAD 54 board of directors, had voted to change the school mascot but said he doesn’t anticipate that happening soon. Because the petition isn’t on the board’s agenda, there won’t be any discussion, though Smith, of Indian Island, will be free to speak when she presents it during the visitors’ portion of the meeting.

The petition comes two years after the issue of using Native American images and names as school mascots was revived at the school. Smith and those who want the nickname removed say uses of Indian nicknames “dehumanize Native Americans and mock our culture and identity.” She and others say the use of the term is racist and has no place in Maine Schools.

Smith said her visit to the school board and SAD 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry will be a respectful one to remind the district that her group is not going away, despite the board’s 11-9 vote in May to keep the nickname.

“This will be a very peaceful, polite respectful thing,” Smith said by phone Tuesday. “This isn’t looking for conflict or confrontation. It’s almost a courtesy for the school board to say a lot of people in your district feel this way. We’re not going away, and I think they need to know that and be updated on the development.”

Downing said Tuesday, “I would consider it an educational process that continues.”

“There was a vote last year and you had folks that were not pleased with the results, and they’re passionate about the issue; so they continue to press on with information that they feel is relevant to the issue, and we have to respect that,” he said.

Downing said he is not suggesting that the issue is not worthy of discussion, but given the school board vote last year and subsequent elections of new members who support keeping the name, “there is a realism to this situation” that indicates that another vote would not change anything.

“I don’t think there are any formal next steps,” he said. “I think both sides are going to try to make the commitment that they’ve made. As I understand it, they are communicating at the state level as well. We respect that.”

Smith said the same petition will be delivered to Martha J. Harris, chairman of the Maine Board of Education.

Smith cited a 2005 study by the American Psychological Association that called for the retirement of all American Indian mascots in American schools and colleges. The association’s research suggests that continued use of American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities has a negative effect, not only on American Indians students, but all students.

Smith said continued use of the mascot is racist and “not something we can accept in 2016.”

Supporters of keeping Skowhegan the Indians say it is their pride and heritage to call themselves Indians, as they have done at sporting events for decades.

School Board member Jennifer Poirier, who formed an opposing Facebook group, Skowhegan Indian Pride, did not return messages and an email for comment this week on Smith’s petition.

Downing said the school district will continue to provide education opportunities, such as Native American Recognition Day held on March 18.

“I would like to think this year there has been an easing of the tensions,” he said. “I think there’s a greater understanding of the sensitivity of this issue from both sides. There’s passion on both sides.”

 


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