Saturday, April 9, 2016

How To Define The Area Affected By Racism: Open Letter To The Maine Principals' Assoc. #mepolitics

ESPN host Bomani Jones caused a stir wearing this parody t-shirt on the air.  
His explanation: “The statement is obvious … this is the same thing that goes on with the logo for the Cleveland Indians, right? So, to have a problem with the logo of this, would be to have a problem with the Indians, but if you’re quiet about the Indians, and you got something to say about my shirt, I think it’s time for introspection."
Dear Maine Principals' Association,
This is my second letter to you in a week. You haven't answered my first one, but that's not why I'm writing again. 

I'm writing again because my thinking has evolved in light of new information I've received on the effects of the Skowhegan "Indian" mascot. Some people call the result of changing one's thinking in response to new experiences education. 

My family, or perhaps more accurately my ancestors, have paid property taxes in the town of Skowhegan, Maine since Bloomfield joined the recently incorporated town in 1861. I still pay property taxes to support the local schools but I don't live there anymore. This drew a lot of harsh commentary on an article in the Morning Sentinel reporting that I'd spoken during the guest portion of the school board meeting where Maulian Smith of the Penobscot Nation presented a petition with 900+ signatures asking that the mascot be changed. You can see WABI TV 5's coverage of that here

The school district, RSU #54, is the final remaining district in my state to use an "Indian" mascot for their sports teams. RSU #54 serves an area that consists of many towns: Mercer, Smithfield, Skowhegan, Canaan -- and Norridgewock, the site of an historic attack on native people usually referred to by the somewhat misleading name Father Rasle Massacre. 

A memorial for the Indian Village. Note the bullet marks on the sign.
Posted by Maria Girouard on Friday, August 8, 2014

Wabanaki historians tell us that, "There were more than 20 tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy. There are only four tribes still in existence in Maine; more than 16 other tribes were completely destroyed (Sockbeson, 2011)." It's a sad history of genocide, and it's required by law to be taught in Maine schools.

In addition, Skowhegan Area High School's campus is the site of the Skowhegan Regional Vocational Center. Its mission is described as offering "Maine high school students modern, hands-on training in a variety of technical and academic programs." The town I live in belongs to a school district which pays into and send students to be educated in this regional tech center. The bus bringing them to learn passes Skowhegan Area High School's sign with its depiction of a native person and the slogan "Home of the Indians" each school day.

I've already told you that students at my school are bothered by the hostile atmosphere created by continued use of this form of institutional racism. Here's something related that I had not thought about before. This is a comment made April 8 on the Not Your Mascot Maine chapter's facebook page:

Tasha Raymond My husband went to Mt. Blue and made the comment to me about how awkward games were. If you said the wrong thing against the Skowhegan team it could be taken as racist, even if you meant it just as a team vs team thing. This doesn't just effect the kids in this district.

During public testimony last year, SAHS teacher Iver Lofving pleaded with the board to retire the "Indian" name because he thought his students deserved to have a mascot that was not offensive to a group of people. This would allow students to create a funny character that could cavort on the sidelines at games, be in the homecoming parade, appear on t-shirts and so on. Other schools that play Skowhegan have such names: bulldogs, cobras and panthers to name a few.

This issue doesn't just affect the students in the SAHS district. As a state-level educational association with a supervisory role in regional sports, the MPA should step up to the plate and help Skowhegan move forward in history. 

Whether or not the team name was motivated by racism is irrelevant. It is 2016, and appropriating humans as sports mascots is widely understood to be offensive. Please use your leadership position to do the right thing.

Respectfully submitted,
Lisa Savage

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