By the end of the first week of May, Maine’s public schools could be “Redskins”-free.
The Sanford School Committee will hold a public hearing on May 7 after which they are expected to vote on eliminating the name “Redskins” as the school’s mascot. Sanford is the last school district in the state to use the offensive label.
Last year, Maine’s Regional School Unit 12, the school board that oversees Wiscasset High School and seven other schools in the area, voted to replace their Redskins mascot with “Wolverines.” As in the case of the Wiscasset school district, the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission(MITSC) asked the Sanford School Committee to drop the Redskins name, which is profoundly offensive to Maine’s Wabanaki nations – the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet and Micmacs – because it is linked to an 18th century settler colonial policy of Indian genocide. All five Wabanaki tribal governments have asked the MITSC to work on having all schools drop the use of the Redskins mascot.
On April 11, MITSC held a “community conversation” in Sanford’s North Parish Congregational Church. The St. George’s Episcopal Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church co-sponsored the event. Around 50 community members attended the meeting with MITSC members, tribal council members and other Native people from the community.
MITSC Chairwoman Jamie Bissonette Lewey told the group that she believed that the mascot name was adopted some 70 years ago, with “respect and honor for indigenous people, but the name means something different to us,” the Journal Tribune reported.
Lewey provided the historical context for the name “Redskins”: the Phips Proclamation, a 17th century racist policy put into place by the Massachusetts colonial government (Maine was still part of the Massachusetts colony then). In 1755, Spencer Phips, the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Massachusetts, called for the genocide of the Penobscot Nation whose people had resisted the colonization of their lands. The proclamation named the Penobscots as “Enemies, Rebells, and Traitors to his Majesty King George the Second,” and required Massachusetts residents to “Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” It set out a schedule of payments “for every Indian Enemy that they shall kill and produce the Scalp.” Scalps of Penobscot men over 12 years of age fetched 50 pounds; female scalps brought in 25 pounds; and scalps of children under 12 brought in 20 pounds. The bloody scalps were called “Redskins.”
MITSC member Cushman Anthony, agreed there was no ill intent when the school adopted the name for its mascot, but said, “There is a difference between intent and what is expressed after the fact so despite the fine intent, we have to pay attention to how it’s experienced.”
Only one person spoke in favor of keeping the mascot name — Roland Cote, a retired Sanford history teacher and basketball coach, according to the Journal Tribune report. “We have a lot of respect for the term ‘Redskin,’” said Cote. “I will always be Redskin. I was raised as a Redskin. No one in Sanford has ever been a racist or degraded the name Redskin and it’s always been respected,” he said, adding, “I understand the feeling you people have.”
Elder Richard Silliboy, a Micmac tribal council member, told Indian Country Today Media Network that he told the audience what it was like growing up Indian in a white society that constantly denigrated him. “I was called stinking Indian, dirty Indian, drunken Indian, a good-for-nothing Indian, and the only good Indian’s a dead Indian,” Silliboy said. Silliboy said the people who attended the meeting were extremely supportive of eliminating the Redskins name. “We went a long way to speak to people who already support us,” said Silliboy, who had traveled south from Aroostook County where the Micmac reservation is located. “But even if they do away with the mascot, our work doesn’t end there.
There’s another one down in Washington, D.C.,” he said, referring to the professional football team whose owner Dan Snyder won an Unsportsman of the Year Award last year, in part for refusing to change the team name and logo because he had been a fan of the ream since he was a kid and changing the name would offend his inner child.
The meeting was special, MITSC Executive Director John Dieffenbacher-Krall said. “People shared very deep experiences about what it’s like being Indian. But they did it in very gentle ways without rancor or blame.” Dieffenbacker-Krall said he anticipates a positive outcome on May 7.