Items that read “Skowhegan Indians” are still selling in town, the Morning Sentinel reported this week, as are shirts that say “Indian Outlaw” – an apparent reference to the state law passed earlier this year banning public schools from using depictions of Native Americans in mascots, logos or nicknames.

It is disappointing to see that some people are not yet prepared to move on from the old mascot. But it is not unexpected – if everyone in the Skowhegan school district had taken to heart the testimony showing how such mascots are hurtful and reductive, then it would have been changed long ago.

That a few people are still upset with the discontinuation of the Indians mascot, however, should not take away from the progress made in the last few years. The people arguing against Native American mascots – led by representatives of Maine’s four tribes, particularly Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation’s tribal ambassador – made their case again and again, telling hard truths, sincerely and precisely, to crowds who weren’t always ready to hear it.

In doing so, they changed minds. Eventually, enough people were willing to do the right thing.

The School Administrative District 54 board did the right thing in March, voting 14-9 to “respectfully retire” the mascot and accompanying imagery.

It wasn’t outsiders who made that decision, as mascot supporters say, but local elected officials. They voted not to wipe away the memories of Skowhegan alumni, or to give into political correctness, but to end a practice that is offensive and damaging to American Indians.

In April, the Maine Legislature did the right thing, too, by passing – easily – the law to prohibit the use of Native American imagery at public schools and colleges. Until the SAD 54 board’s vote, Skowhegan was the last school to hold on to its Indian mascot, so the state law had little practical effect.

Still, the law sends a clear message that the arguments made by the tribal representatives and their supporters are valid and genuine, and that the state of Maine and its institutions take them seriously.

You can’t make everyone listen. You can’t force people to change their minds or to take the arguments against Indian mascots at face value.

And people in Skowhegan have every right to buy and wear “Indians” gear, just as a business has every right to sell it.

Now, wearing such a T-shirt is a thumb in the eye of everyone who took this debate seriously. And one would think the owner of the store selling the gear, who is also a school board member, would think twice about picking this particular scab.

But no law can stop them; despite what the shirt says, they are not “outlaws,” just people who, for whatever reason, cannot appreciate that those shirts are genuinely hurtful to a lot of people.

What the law can do is say that our public institutions will not condone mascots that are dismissive of Native American cultures, their history and their presence in our communities to this day.

Now that the use of these damaging mascots in an official capacity is a thing of the past, the best we can hope for is that the stragglers will eventually open their minds. The best we can do is keep telling the hard truths.


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