|Professor Charlene Teters, Spokane, a founding mother of the movement to retire Native sports mascots.|
The greatest benefit of working to help retire Skowhegan Area High School's team name "Indians" has been furthering my own education. Today I learned about Charlene Teters, an artist/activist who has been leading this work for decades. Later in this post I'll share some of the resources coming my way, mostly shared by people I've gotten to know as a result of doing white people's work to address our systemic racism.
But first a word about that work, and why so many people who could don't join in the call to dismantle white supremacy.
|Georgina Sappier-Richardson testifying at a Maine Wabanki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearing. Photo: Ben Pender-Cudlip, courtesy Upstander Project.|
For one thing, the controversy is tearing families apart. While Harold Bigelow sits on the MSAD#54 school board and obstructs change, the younger members of his family cringe at being associated with what they perceive as antiquated racist practices.
At the board meeting in my own school district, which is near Skowhegan, they spent nearly an hour debating sports programs this month. This is not unusual. In my experience in Maine, school boards are about sports. They cleverly hide the true cost of sports programs funded entirely by local property taxes; budget line items such as administration, maintenance and transportation have tens of thousand of dollars in sports-related costs.
Teaching positions are routinely eliminated without debate, but try and cut a sports program and watch board members sit up and start paying attention.
Heck, just try and postpone getting new uniforms by a year and then sit back and watch the fireworks.
At the MSAD#54 school board meeting on December 6, there were no speakers from then ranks of school staff or students. No coaches, no teachers, no civil rights team advisers. Nor did the assistant superintendent, Jon Moody, who is charged with compliance in non-discrimination practices, weigh in. The superintendent, Brent Colbry, felt free to school board members on correct use of Roberts Rules of Order, but then stumbled his way through a complete disavowal of agency or influence on the team name controversy. This is disingenuous of him, and he knows it.
Two school board members are actively leading an online group which has in the past posted threats of violence against Penboscot leader Maulian Dana and her children. Here are some recent posts:
In the very limited worldview of board members like Ring and Poirier, this is a local issue. The national scope and significance of retiring white claims on Native culture and heritage is lost on them.
Their status as alumna is of paramount importance in their own minds, and it trumps concerns about adverse effects on the children they were elected to educate.
I believe that the root of this problem of cultural blindness is lack of education. So in the spirit of life-long learning, I offer a few resources.
First and foremost, this short video on the historic work of Professor Teters and the forces of opposition she met in her struggle to retire "Chief Illiniki" of the University of Illinois, "In Whose Honor?"
Next, very exciting to this history major, a recording in the Library of Congress of an Ancestral Voices Roundtable on Passamoquoddy culture and language. It was shared with me by one of the participants, Dwayne Tomah, who recommended it as a good source. Part of the description of this recording for researchers notes:
This panel discussion highlights a collaborative initiative to digitally restore, provide access to and curate the oldest recordings in the Library of Congress collections, the 1890s wax cylinder recordings of the Passamaquoddy tribal nation of Maine... Passamaquoddy elders have been reviewing the sonically restored recordings, transcribing songs and stories in their language...
The discussion focuses on several aspects of the initiative, ranging from control of indigenous intellectual property to digital repatriation to emerging digital technologies to ethical curation and community outreach.
In particular, Passamaquoddy community members describe the critical importance of ethnographic field recordings for sustaining cultural memory, preserving native identity and stemming the loss of language.
They perform songs learned through listening to the recordings, including the first public performance of a song not heard since its documentation 128 years ago.
|Father and child on Penobscot ancestral territory. Photo: Ben Pender-Cudlip, courtesy Upstander Project.|
My final offering for today is this excellent teaching guide created to accompany the documentary Dawnland. Passamoquoddy and other Native children were removed from the rich culture documented by the Library of Congress and punished for speaking their languages. In the 1970's. By the State of Maine.
Read this sorry history of white supremacy, weep, and then resolve to help undo these harms.