Maine To Ban Indigenous Names, Imagery for Public School Mascots

Maine moved one step closer to banning the use of Native American names and imagery for its public school mascots on April 29.

A Democratic-sponsored bill passed along party lines in a 88-49 vote in the Maine House of Representatives. The bill, introduced by Representative Ben Collings (D-Portland), would ban public schools and higher education institutions from using Native American names, symbols, or images as their mascot, team nickname, or school logo, The Bangor Daily News reported.

Collings’ bill follows a Skowhegan School Board vote in March to get rid of Skowhegan’s “Indian” nickname. The board voted 14-9 to get rid of the imagery and name but did not establish a timeline as to when it would happen. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) applauded the school district and Maine, which would be the first state to successfully end the use of indigenous mascots in schools. Studies have shown that indigenous mascots lower the self-esteem of Native American students and teaches students that racial stereotyping is okay, the organization noted.

“This is a historic moment for Skowhegan and our state,” ACLU of Maine Staff Attorney Emma Bond said in a statement. “We are thrilled that [the] majority of Skowhegan’s school board members listened to the people who were being hurt and did the right thing. By retiring the harmful mascot, the town of Skowhegan is forging a bold new legacy of leadership.”

Maine representatives voted following a speech by Rena Newell, a non-voting tribal representative for the Passamaquoddy Tribe from Pleasant Point, The Bangor Daily News reported. Newell questioned why there was even a debate on the issue and added, “I am not a mascot.”

She continued, “It is our collective responsibility to the next generations to promote each other as equals, as individuals, and more importantly, as neighbors.” According to The Bangor Daily News, the bill had the support of two Republican Representatives, Tom Martin of Greene and Patrick Corey of Windham. Representative Joel Stetkis (R-Canaan) was in fierce opposition, calling the bill a “suppression of free speech.”

“I stand in strong opposition to this bill,” Stetkis said on the floor of the Maine State House on April 25. “It seems a rather modest bill on the surface, but in my eyes, could be the most impactful votes any of us will ever take as representatives of the people.” “We are talking about many hundreds of words, expressions, and images that we could outlaw today,” he continued. “Is today that day that we as a government begin outlawing the free use of words or expression?”

The bill was also opposed by Representative Betty Austin (D-Skowhegan), who claimed the bill “directly targeted” her town, The Bangor Daily News reported. “The mascot debate is a local issue and it should remain up to our school board and district to decide what to do,” Austin said. “This bill only divides our community further at a time when our focus should be on coming together and healing.”

Collings did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. However, it isn’t the first time he has introduced legislation in support of indigenous communities. In March, the Maine House voted in favor of Collings’ bill to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.