SPECIAL TO THE MAINE SUNDAY TELEGRAM
MAINE VOICES: No schools in Maine retain Native American nicknames, mascots – that’s something to celebrate
The focus has been on the bill banning the practice in the future, but it should be on the heroes who brought about its end.
Can’t begin to grasp why 330 million Americans are incapable of reaching a peaceful consensus about a statue of Columbus or a Confederate general, or whether sports teams should be using a Native American nickname and mascot? I’d suggest you read Press Herald reporter Colin Woodard’s provocative 2011 book, “American Nations: A History of The Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.”
My God, you combine 560-plus different Indigenous tribes; Africans enslaved in the Americas, and English, Scots and Irish, French, Spanish, Dutch, Germans, Mexicans and more, and then you draw completely arbitrary borders. These, of course, totally disregard intrinsic conflicts spanning ethnicity, race and creed, and a whole host of at-odds cultural values and beliefs.
Look at Woodard’s map and you’ll be left to conclude that, yes, we were destined from Colonial times to more aptly be called “The Divided States of America.”
And then there’s another map of the contiguous 48 United States, published in the Los Angeles Times just a few weeks ago, that might have similarly left us all depressed.
It graphically demonstrated that, despite all the debate and expanded consciousness about Native American nicknames and mascots, we have state after state after state dotted as if it were invaded by an army of ants, the dots representing the plethora of communities and schools (in the hundreds in states like Ohio, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, et al.) completely unwilling to end the practice.
Except one: Maine.
Maine is “lily-white” on this map, and, for once, that is a very admirable thing: This means that no Maine schools have a Native American mascot or nickname.
And I know this fact: Maine is the first state to have completed the task of ending all school use of Native American nicknames and mascots.
I know this, thanks to the wonderful resource that is the website American Indian Sports Teams Mascots (AISTM.org), which posts articles from every state in the country. Even better, it offers specific information for each state, listing all the offending schools, the communities they represent and the nickname.
I am the author of “Baseball’s First Indian,” a biography of Louis Sockalexis, and activist to end the Cleveland professional baseball team’s use of the nickname and mascot. And I used the American Indian Sports Teams Mascots site to full advantage leading into May 2010, when 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 schools’ use of Native American nicknames and mascots. This launched the campaign in Maine to eradicate the practice, which reached its finish line with Skowhegan Area High School in August 2019.
Quite unfortunately, most of the country believes that our state deserves credit only for passing a bill that bars schools from using Native American nicknames and mascots.
It was this story and photograph that went statewide and nationwide showing politicians (including Gov. Mills and Portland state Rep. Ben Collings) and representatives of the Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation celebrating the signing of the bill.
In journalism circles, this is called “burying the lede”: You overlook the worth of the real item that is The Biggest News to highlight something truly less significant.
While I have great respect for Gov. Mills and I’ve enjoyed working with Rep. Collings, the real story isn’t that we won’t allow any of this in the future. What school is going to initiate this practice, given all the controversy that exists?
We should be talking about the 32 Maine schools and communities that ended this practice, all but six of them of their own volition.
We should be talking about the many heroes in this story who have not been acknowledged – from Native American speakers who went to hostile environments (notably Wiscasset, Sanford and Skowhegan) to the citizens, school officials and students in these communities who bravely spoke up in favor of ending the practice.
And we should be talking about and celebrating this story publicly in Maine – before Oregon or Nevada or Utah suddenly announces it’s “the first” to do this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ed Rice of St. Andrews, New Brunswick, is director of a nonprofit group dedicated to building a statue for Louis Sockalexis in Maine. He is donating royalties from the 2019 Down East Books re-issue of his Sockalexis biography to the cause, and the nonprofit’s board is working with the only living two direct descendants of Sockalexis. For more information, visit sockalexis.net.