SKOWHEGAN — A group that seeks to preserve the use of Native American names in schools is scheduled to speak Sunday to a private group in support of keeping the “Indians” nickname in School Administrative District 54.

The North Dakota-based Native American Guardian’s Association says it works with schools across the country to “preserve their Native themed identities as a means to promote awareness and education about Indian history and heritage,” according to the group’s website.

Jennifer Poirier, a school board member and supporter of keeping the “Indians” nickname for sports teams, said the group contacted her several months ago, saying they were going to be on the East Coast in February and were interested in coming to Skowhegan.

Residents in the Skowhegan-based school district have debated for years whether to get rid of the name, which critics, including members of Maine’s Penobscot Nation, have said is racist and offensive to Native Americans. Supporters of keeping the name say its use is respectful and part of the area’s history.

Skowhegan Area High School is currently the only school left in Maine that continues to use Native American imagery and the “Indians” nickname for its sports teams, though it got rid of its Indian mascot around 1990.

The event, which will take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at T&B’s Celebration Center in Skowhegan, is by invitation only, Poirier said. Those invited include supporters of keeping the Indians name, all school board members and school administrators. The Morning Sentinel has also been invited to cover the event.

“It’s not open to the public,” Poirier said. “This is not a debate going on. This is something where they’re coming to support the people who support the name.”

Maulian Dana, a tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation and supporter of changing the name, criticized the event Tuesday, calling it a “racist echo chamber.” She said there will likely be protesters, though she was not sure if she would be among them for safety reasons.

“It’s a very desperate and sad move that Skowhegan Indian Pride is doing,” Dana said. “I think it’s unethical of Jennifer Poirier as a school board member to bring this group into the community. It’s ironic they call indigenous people of Maine outsiders and say we can’t come in and tell them what to do, but they’re willing to bring this out-of-state group in that they really don’t know that much about to prop up their message.”

In a Facebook post Monday, Dana also wrote that the group is “full of pretendians, people accepting bribes to say they like mascots, and they are funded with deep pockets of those looking to keep the Washington football team racial slur.”

Andre Billeaudeaux, a board member of the Native American Guardian’s Association, which also goes by the acronym NAGA, said in an email the group “is not funded by the NFL” but would not say if it is affiliated with Mark One Wolf Yancey, who has claimed to be of the Apache tribe but whose lineage has been questioned after he became an outspoken advocate for the Washington, D.C., Redskins name.

Sherri Mitchell, an indigenous-rights attorney in Maine, also called the group “fake Indians” on Facebook and said in a post Monday: “This group is comprised of paid actors who were hired by the Washington Redskins to promote Native American mascots.”

Mitchell did not respond to a Facebook message seeking comment late Tuesday afternoon. Billeaudeaux said her post “is so hostile to the truth as to make any reasonable or formal and open visit to Maine very difficult.”

He said it is one reason he supports the event not being open to the public, although the group does want their message to be heard by all residents in SAD 54. The district includes the communities of Skowhegan, Canaan, Mercer, Smithfield, Norridgewock and Cornville.

Eunice Davidson, president of NAGA, is scheduled to be one of at least three people the group is bringing to Maine, including Tony Henson and Pretty Deer Flower Eagleman, who are also members of the group’s leadership team.

A member of the Spirit Lake tribe in North Dakota, Davidson also gave an interview in January to conservative radio host Bill Cunningham in which she defended the use of the word “redskins” and the actions of a group of Covington Catholic High School students who engaged in a standoff with Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips outside the Lincoln Memorial.

“I saw this man as forcing an issue on this boy,” Davidson said in the interview. “This was a young boy. He probably doesn’t know our culture at all, and the older gentleman, being disrespectful that he was, the way he went right in there pounding the drum in the boy’s face, to me that was very radical.”

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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