SKOWHEGAN — Making good on their promise to fight a recent school board decision to drop the “Indians” nickname from school sports teams, about 50 people showed up Sunday morning to gather signatures calling for the vote to be revisited.

Sporting the black and orange “Indian Pride” garb, the group huddled around cars and pickup trucks in front of the iconic Skowhegan Indian sculpture donated to the town in 1969 by Maine artist Bernard Langlais.

It was a call to action, said school board member Todd Smith, passing out flyers while others distributed petitions to be signed. He said the petitions are to be delivered to School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry.

“The people here have a voice that they feel was not represented as what they want,” said Smith, who voted to keep the “Indians” nickname Thursday night. “It’s interesting to see the response the community has. It’s a little bit more overwhelming than I expected. On a Sunday morning, on a day of a coming storm, to have this kind of support in person is representative of what our community is about.”

Debate over the “Indians” name has raged loudly in and out of school board meetings since 2015, when the board voted 11-9 to keep the name.  Some board members at the time said that the word “mascot” was a misnomer, as the district had dropped all the feathers, warpaint and characters years before. But critics, including members of Maine’s tribes, persisted that the schools’ use of the “Indians” name amounted to a racist and demeaning mascot to real Native Americans.

The staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine sent a letter in December to the school board chairwoman and the superintendent urging them to “do the right thing” and drop the “Indians” nickname. On Friday, the Maine ACLU released a statement in which staff attorney Emma Bond called the decision to retire the nickname a “historic moment for Skowhegan and our state,” adding that Maine is now “poised to become the first state in the nation to successfully end the harmful use of indigenous mascots in schools.”

Passing out petitions to be signed Sunday morning, “Indian Pride” supporter Kenny Steward, of Skowhegan, said their side of the story hasn’t been told.

“This is our story, not their story — this is our town,” Steward said. “We are doing a petition to save the Indian name. This is our Indian. We’re not doing it to be racist; we’re not doing it to be disrespectful. We’re doing it to honor the people that lived here before.”

The petition asks the SAD 54 board to to allow all registered voters of the six district towns to “vote on the retention or removal” of the Skowhegan Indian name and seal of Skowhegan Area High School and have the Board of Directors “adhere to the result of such a vote.”

Colbry and board Chairwoman Dixie Ring, of Canaan, who voted to drop the name, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation ambassador who was the driving force behind the effort to drop the name, said via social media that Sunday’s rally was a sad turn of events.

“I think it’s sad they can’t embrace positive change and hope they can rally all their community pride for good things instead eventually,” she said.

The Sunday morning crowd included parents, students and high school alumni, all there for the same reason — keep the “Indian” nickname.

Among the students who lined up Sunday morning to sign the petition was Jada Hurlbutt, a high school sophomore who lives in Norridgewock. She said students are not allowed to wear “Indians” shirts or hats while at school.

“I was sent down to the principal’s office from a post I made on the ‘Indian Pride’ page … saying that people need to be careful about what they post, pictures or Indian wear in the school. Because if not, they could get either a warning or suspended,” Hurlbutt said. “I got spoken to at 9 o’clock and got put in the office with no parent consent with Officer Dave (Daigneault) and a vice principal.”

High school sophomore George White, of Skowhegan, said the student body has not been asked how it feels about the “Indian” nickname.

“They should have really let the students speak up for what they had to say,” White said. “We haven’t really gotten to talk much until now. We want to keep the Indian name — it’s a sign of how we are, and we keep it as respect. We respect the Indians, and we’re not using it against anyone. It’s not racist.”

The next meeting of the school board is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 21.

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