The board of education that banned the use of the racist Redskins mascot at Wiscasset High School (WHS) has reinstated it temporarily.
After voting to remove the offensive name and symbol from all eight schools in its jurisdiction in January, Regional School Unit 12 (RSU 12) voted 10-9 on March 17 to allow WHS to continue using the offensive name until the end of the school year. The decision came after a contentious two-hour debate among board members and the public, the Lincoln County News reported.
The current senior class will be allowed to graduate as “Redskins,” but the board also directed a Mascot Committee that was formed late last year to find a new symbol and present its decision to the board no later than May 12. Additionally, all representations of the Redskin mascot at WHS must be removed before August 1, but the school’s historical trophies and awards will remain.
The Mascot Committee has already selected three names from the several dozen suggested for consideration by the community. Under consideration are the Red Hawks, Wolverines, and Rebels. WHS will e-mail all parents for whom they have e-mail addresses and reach out to local media encouraging residents within any of the RSU 12 communities to choose their favorite name. Residents can vote for their favorite on the RSU 12 website.
Jamie Bissonette Lewey, chairwoman of the Maine Indian Tribal-State Commission (MITSC), who attended the meeting, urged the board to end the “intergenerational” racism where it may have started, the report said. “Bounty hunters who were sent to kill Native Americans would register in Wiscasset,” Bissonette Lewey told the board. “I respectfully ask you to stop using this name.”
Bissonette Lewey was referring to the historic use of the term “redskins” in Maine, which is found in a 1755 Phips Proclamation that institutionalized genocide of the Penobscot Indians. The proclamation orders, “His Majesty’s subjects”—that is, British King George II—“to Embrace all opportunities of pursuing, captivating, killing and Destroying all and every of the aforesaid Indians.” The colonial government paid 50 pounds for scalps of males over 12 years, 25 pounds for scalps of women under 12, and 20 pounds for scalps of boys and girls under 12. Twenty-five British pounds sterling in 1755, worth around $9,000 today —a small fortune in those days when an English teacher earned 60 pounds a year.
Bissonette Lewey accepted the board’s decision to reinstate the name. “I think the RSU board needed to make a decision that allowed everyone to move forward and this was probably the best decision they could make,” she said.
The commission asked RSU 12 to drop the Redskins name last summer, because it offends American Indians in general and in particular Maine’s four Wabanaki nations—the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseets, and Micmacs—who view the name as symbolic of the region’s historic racist policy of genocide toward indigenous people. Wiscasset High School had used the name and symbol for almost 70 years.
The request sparked a four-month controversy that resulted in RSU 12 voting to ban the use of the Redskins name and mascot on January 13. In a nonbinding survey of Wiscasset residents on Election Day last November, residents voted 503-128 in support of the continued use of what has come to be called “the language of savagery”—words and images that demean and disrespect indigenous peoples and allow the historic injustices against them to continue. Soon after the January ban, the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen voted to put the nonbinding question to the voters again. That vote took place on March 1 when Wiscasset residents voted 279-53 to keep using the derogatory name and symbol. More than 3,000 Wiscasset residents are registered voters, which means voter turnout for the Redskins question was only around 10 percent.
The issue has divided the community and not everyone is happy about the latest vote. Board member Eugene Stover thinks the mascot should stay permanently, according the to the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. “It’s been there since the early ‘40s and no one has complained about it,” he said at the meeting. “No one has complained until the people from the Indian nations came down here and made their complaint. They want to listen to the people from the Indian nations but they don’t want to listen to the people from the town of Wiscasset.”
State Rep. Les Fossel, a Republican, told board members the “world was closing in” on Wiscasset. Although he supported dropping the Redskins name, he used an odd image to express his support. “You’ve used the term Redskins with a great deal of affection and love, but it’s time to bury the Indian,” Fossel said. “It’s time to find to find a new symbol for this school and I know that’s what you don’t want to hear, but it’s coming.”
But supporters of the racist image and name may not give up their demand to reinstate the mascot permanently, according to a WMTW report. Wiscasset resident Chet Grover vowed to continue the battle. “There will be no further Redskins, but in my heart I will always be a Redskins. I’m gonna continue to fight the fight. I don’t think we’ve been heard,” Grover said.