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Last Maine high school to use ‘Indians’ retires the nickname

March 8, 2019
In this Jan. 15, 2019 photo, Skowhegan Area High School cheerleaders stand beneath a mural of the school's mascot on the wall of the gymnasium in Skowhegan, Maine. The last Maine high school to use an "Indian" nickname is retiring the mascot. The Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors voted 14-9 Thursday, March 7, 2019, to get rid of the nickname for all schools in the district, ending a years-long debate over the Skowhegan Area High School mascot. (Michael G. Seamans/Portland Press Herald via AP)

SKOWHEGAN, Maine (AP) — The last Maine high school to use a Native American-themed mascot and nickname has retired them — a move that a rights group says sets the state up to become the first to eliminate such references in schools.

The Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 Board of Directors voted 14-9 Thursday night to get rid of the “Indian” nickname and mascot for all schools in the district, ending a yearslong debate over the Skowhegan Area High School teams.

The Penobscot Nation led efforts to get the district to drop the references, calling them racist and demeaning to Native Americans.

Proponents of the Indian nickname insisted it honors Maine’s tribes, and some said the matter is not yet settled.

With the vote, Maine is poised to become the first state in the nation to end the use of indigenous nicknames and mascots in schools, said Rachel Healy, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. Other states are moving in a similar direction but haven’t reached the 100 percent mark yet, she said.

Gov. Janet Mills had urged the board to discontinue use of the nickname, and the Maine Department of Education urged schools “to refrain from using mascots and logos that depict Native American tribes, individuals, customs or traditions.” There’s also a bill in the Maine Legislature to ban Native American mascots in schools.

Other schools already abandoned Native American-themed mascots and nicknames like Braves and Chiefs.

But Skowhegan resisted the trend.

“This mascot meant a lot to a lot of people for a very long time,” Iver Lofving, who teaches art at Skowhegan Area High School, told Maine Public radio.

But he predicted people will settle into the idea and work together to create an actual mascot — someone dressed up in a costume — for the sidelines, something Skowhegan hasn’t had for years.

While a few schools in Maine still use the Warrior nickname, they do so without Native American imagery, Healy of the ACLU said. The Skowhegan district was the last to continue to use that imagery.

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