Starting in the late 1990s, I was part of the national movement to get the Cleveland Indians to drop Chief Wahoo – perhaps the most racist caricature in use in American society. Frustration with that effort (ultimately successful only after many years) led me to work to see that all such offensive nicknames and mascots end in my home state of Maine.

In 2010, I partnered with longtime friend John Dieffenbacher-Krall, then executive director of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission, to host a symposium on the issue of Maine school use of Native American nicknames and mascots. We helped coordinate the symposium at the Bangor Public Library, inviting representatives from all four tribes of the Wabenaki Alliance and from schools that had recently ended the practice and, of course, superintendents and principals from all the schools still using such nicknames and mascots.

In preparation for this forum, I’d found the website American Indian Sports Teams Mascots, which maintains a list of the offending schools in each state. I was disconsolate to see there were 34 offending schools in Maine. I determined to call each one.

I remember reaching a wonderful “Wow!” moment when I’d called every single school on the list and discovered that there were, truly, a handful in the process of transitioning – and really only six, all high schools, that still deserved outright condemnation.

Today, I’m unaware of any recognition that most of the following communities and schools in Maine, especially the elementary and junior high schools, received for doing the right thing and changing their nicknames and mascots. The vast majority of these were either “Indians” (16) or “Warriors” (six). There were a couple of “Braves,” just one “Chiefs” and just one “Apaches.” There were four “Redskins.”

This honor roll includes: D.W. Merritt Elementary School in Addison; Athens Elementary; Mildred Day Memorial, Arundel; Beals Elementary; Blue Hill Consolidated; Woodstock Elementary, Bryant Pond; Columbia Falls Elementary; Corinna Junior High; Etna-Dixmont School; Fort Kent Community High; Narragansett Primary, Gorham; and Sugg Middle School, Lisbon.


Also: Joseph A. Leonard Middle School and Old Town High, Old Town; Dirigo Elementary, Peru; Sabattus Central School; St. Albans Elementary; Sanford Junior High; Scarborough Junior High and Scarborough High; Pemetic Elementary, Southwest Harbor; Strong Elementary; Trenton Elementary; A.D. Gray Junior High, Waldoboro; Temple Academy, Waterville; and Wiscasset Primary.

Moreover, of the six high schools that appeared disinclined to make any change at the time of our 2010 symposium – Southern Aroostook, in Dyer Brook; Nokomis, in Newport, and Sanford, Skowhegan Area, Wells and Wiscasset – only Skowhegan is still unmoved on keeping both the Native American nickname and mascot.

I suspect there are many unnamed educators who are our real heroes on this issue, far more deserving of seeing their names in print than the intractable, racially insensitive individuals who are quoted, school board meeting after school board meeting.

I’ll single out one educator I learned about: Tim Doak, then principal at Fort Kent Community High School. One of his first acts was to see the “Indian head” on the gym floor removed. The school moved to a generic use of the nickname “Warriors.” Students were invited to participate in an art contest, with the winner focused upon a more modern interpretation, a “wounded warrior.”

Later, when Doak determined that this appeal to a more generic use of the term “Warriors” still meant “American Indian” to too many individuals in the school community, he pressed for further evolution. Today, the school is represented by another student’s artwork, and the symbol is the Spartan warrior.

Not surprisingly, Doak’s kind of leadership has been rewarded: As superintendent for two districts (in Caribou and Fort Fairfield), he was named Maine Superintendent of the Year for 2018.

So, to Doak and all the other enlightened leaders of Maine education on this issue: Thank you.


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