March 7, 2019: The Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 board votes 14-9 to discontinue the use of “Indians” in reference to the district’s sports teams. The decision follows five years of bitter, high-profile debate about the name.

The district consists of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield.

Many Skowhegan-area residents oppose dropping the name, saying it is meant to honor indigenous people. Previous school board meetings drew representatives of Maine’s four tribes who said use of the name harms them, although other tribe members said they don’t find it offensive.

“We’ve never been asked, and I think that we should all be asked,” Passamaquoddy tribe member Kathy LeBrun tells Maine Public. “I mean, we’re all on the census.”

Those who advocate dropping the name also include Gov. Janet Mills and ACLU of Maine, which says the school board’s decision makes Maine the first U.S. state to rid itself of Native American mascot names and imagery for school sports teams.

Before the March 7 decision – which reverses a 2015 board vote of 11-9 to keep using the “Indians” nickname – supporters of the nearly century-old name held boisterous rallies, conducted letter-writing campaigns and held up large, homemade campaign-style posters at school board meetings to make their feelings known. Some called for a districtwide referendum on the issue, an idea that the board rejected.

The board debates how to establish a timeline and a process for selecting a new team name for the schools at a December 2019 meeting, but it makes no decision.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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