I attended Wells High School, and having the Native American as our mascot was offputting. As a kid, I wasn’t taught respect for other cultures, so I didn’t realize how offensive this was until my young adulthood.

It’s not OK. I know 10-year-old children who can understand why it isn’t OK. The way to respect a culture other than your own is not to take it on and mimic it falsely, while benefiting from white privilege.

Students are learning the lesson again that it’s OK to use cultures as costumes, which already happens a lot in an almost entirely white town. When I grew up, students were mimicking African-American and Asian culture, and the Native American mascot was always a huge appropriation/rebranding.

The superintendent (James P. Daly), the highest power in the school district, supported essentially mocking Native American rituals for a football game, which is blatantly disrespectful as well as embarrassing, racist and cruel. I’m calling it out in hopes there will be an apology and a ongoing process of amending this.

Having graduated 10 years ago, I really hoped the school would work toward cultural competency and sensitivity. Many other schools in Maine (Scarborough, Bar Harbor and others) stopped taking Native American names and stealing them as sports mascots long ago because they realized how offensive and unnecessary it is. Here lies an opportunity to learn from them.

Also, there’s an opportunity to teach Wells High students about Maine’s Native people and about respect for other cultures, their own white privilege and how to properly pay respect to another person’s culture. Yes, Native American culture is rich and fascinating – but it’s also critical to understand our history as a country, to understand how we’ve treated Native Americans and to learn that their ceremonies are deeply meaningful and spiritual to them.

With great power comes great responsibility, and the kids are watching.

Tanya Lima