Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Pen Is A Mighty Change Agent

Among the idealistic beliefs I cling to, sometimes in the face of fierce opposition, is the power of information.

"The pen is mightier than the sword" is something I wanted to believe when I was young, and studying history and current events has strengthened this conviction.

Other ways I've learned of expressing this belief include "You can't kill an idea whose time has come" as well as the proverb of indigenous people of Mexico:

With those thoughts in mind, today I'll share the latest crop of opinion pieces and letters to the editor calling for the retirement of the Skowhegan high school "Indian" mascot/team name.

The first is from The Maine Campus, student newspaper of the University of Maine, Orono. It's a well-researched and well-written op-ed by Liz Theriault. "Maine high schools should consider harmful impacts of Native American Mascots." An excerpt:

No one understands the painful history of a culture more than those whose ancestors endured it. USA Today reported that high schools across the nation started adopting Indian team names around the 1920s and 1930s, the same time that the use of Native language or the practice of Native religion was banned. The Civilization Fund Act of 1819 provided federal funding to boarding schools designed to assimilate Native Americans into white culture. While these egregious acts were being forced upon Natives, and as they were banned from practicing their cultures, students wore feathers, mocked chants and offensively danced on the sidelines of sports games.

I look forward to reading more from Liz Theriault in the years to come!

The next two letters were published today in the Waterville Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal, sister newspapers serving the area that contains the sprawling district MSAD 54.

"Skowhegan's mascot fight is costly" was sent in by Abby Norling, a retired special ed teacher whom I taught with many years ago in Oakland. An excerpt:

With the school budget season upon us, I can’t help but wonder what else $15,000 could buy for students — perhaps new books, science lab equipment, or busing to tournaments? New uniforms have also been suggested, but that’s not a pressing need, since SAHS team uniforms don’t say the team name on them and haven’t for years. 
As a former board member myself, I also worry about potential future legal actions, and what that might cost taxpayers. Prudent management of the district’s scarce resources for education would seem to suggest that retiring the team name soon would be a financially responsible thing, as well as just the right thing to do.

"SAD 54 Board should listen to tribes" by Ernie Hilton brings his perspective as an attorney into play by pointing out which groups are and aren't credible when they claim to speak for Maine's Natives. An excerpt:

...the governing bodies of the four sovereign tribes noted above [Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Micmacs], having as they do the legal right to represent the interests of the larger diaspora of their members, have engaged in a deliberative process and arrived at a conclusion — a conclusion mind you which is based on a great deal of unrefuted scientific evidence that the use of “Indian” symbology, whether termed as a mascot or otherwise, is damaging to their members.  They have appointed official ambassadors to present this request.

Interested parties may want to join us to maintain a presence at the MSAD 54 board meetings.

Alumna Tamarleigh Grenfell at the last board meeting. I particularly like the message on her yellow sign. The acronym SAHS on her pink sign stands for Skowhegan Area High School.

The next meeting is tomorrow, Thursday, February 28 at 7pm in the Skowhegan Area Middle School cafeteria (link to Facebook event with more info here). An item to decide on how to proceed on the mascot issue is on the agenda, but it's very unlikely a vote will occur this week.

If you'd like to share some information or reasoning with the school board directors, a handy copy and paste list of their email addresses can be found here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Retire The Mascot Because It Costs Too Much To Defend It Is Focus Of Email Campaign

Pretendian Mark "OneWolf" Yancey (right) was invited to a closed meeting by the Skowhegan "Indian Pride" group led by MSAD 54 board member Jennifer Poirier last Sunday, February 24. Somerset Community TV 11, which videotapes and shares many public meetings in their entirety and without comment, was turned away from the event held at a local bowling alley despite presenting press credentials. 

The MSAD 54 school board is weeks behind in their budget process for school year '19-20, and at least $15,000 out of pocket for defending the "Indian" nickname/macot. Once considered fine, it's now 2019 and the mascot has not aged well at all.

In the run up to this Thursday's board meeting and superintendent's agenda item on next steps, many local taxpayers and other concerned parties are waging a letter writing campaign. Here's the one I sent this morning, with a handy copy-and-paste list of board members, central office administrators and their assistants. 

Subject: Costly, aging mascot needs to retire to free up time and $$ for edu


Dear MSAD directors and administrators,
I was glad to finally see my question to you all about your budget for legal costs and whether or not it has been exceeded answered in the Sentinel article by Rachel Ohm yesterday. Chair Ring had previously responded to my question about the legal costs of the mascot issue with a figure of $15,000 which is close to the amount in Superintendent Colbry's quote to the reporter (i.e. $15,500). Unfortunately, I can't rely on the accuracy of newspaper articles for information about how MSAD 54 conducts the business of public education on behalf of those of us who pay for it e.g. a file photo of me and my husband in the same article misidentified me as Linda Savage.

Your mascot has not aged well and is costing local taxpayers far more than anything related to sports teams should. All the time and expense of defending the "Indian" nickname/mascot is mounting with no end in sight. The board should be focused on developing a workable budget for the '19-20 school year right now. 

I am sorry to see that you have a board member cozied up to a pretend "Indian" from the Washington DC area who is no such thing. If you want to read more about Mark "OneWolf" Yancey's history with mascots I recommend this article from the sports website Deadspin: "Is the R##skins' VIP Indian Defender a Fake Indian?"

Jen Poirier (at right in photo), you are clearly biased and should recuse yourself from any future vote on retiring the mascot. I am glad that you and others from Skowhegan "Indian Pride" have finally dropped your objections to listening to people from away. Institutionalized racism affects everyone who comes in contact with it, and it has a particularly deleterious effect on young people's self-image and aspirations when they identify with the targeted group.

Please do the right thing and retire the mascot before any more money or time is wasted on fighting a losing battle.
Lisa Savage
Solon resident, Skowhegan taxpayer

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Movie Review: THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, Narrated By Those Who Did

Source: archives, Imperial War Museum, London (colorized)

It was my grandfather's experiences in WWI that led him to teach his only child, my father, who passed it along to us: Don't believe them when they say the next war is a good war; there is no such thing. Brooks Elliott Savage was wounded on the 11th day of the 11th month, basically the 11th hour of the war, by shrapnel and then mustard gas. He suffered through a long recovery and it took his parents in Skowhegan, Maine most of a year to even find him. 

Brooks, who had marched off as an idealistic high school graduate, was talking to his son about the Korean War, hyped at the time as crucial to fending off communism emanating from Red China. My dad went anyway after his dad died, but by then it was post-combat. Still, the suffering of the Korean people who had lost millions of family members and couldn't feed their kids made an impression on him.

Source: archives, Imperial War Museum, London (colorized)

War is hell, is what he taught us. There's nothing glorious about living the rest of your life with a bum leg, bad lungs, and a guilty conscience.

THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD is an historical marvel,  but it isn't a good film. Cobbled together from archival footage as a project of the Imperial War Museum in England by New Zealand director Sir Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies), the documentary applies modern technology to restore images and insert sound tracks. Lip reading was used to render some of the dialogue, but most is voice over narration drawn from BBC oral history interviews with veterans. The title of the film is never explained; we are meant to understand that it is a reference to a poem glorifying the "Great War" at its inception. 

They shall grow not old; as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

wrote Robert Laurence Binyon in "For the Fallen," published in 1914.

I beg to differ, as the years have condemned the one million imperial troops who died in the scramble for the colonial spoils of the unraveling Ottoman Empire. To a student of history like me, WWI set off a bloody chain of events that led directly to WWII and thence to the Zionist project in Palestine and the so-called War on Terror (or WWIII if you prefer). As the grandmother of a friend remarked after returning from an organizing meeting in NYC as the U.S. prepared to enter WWI, This whole thing is about nothing more than Mosul Oil.

Thus, the city of Mosul in what is now Iraq has been ravaged by battle after battle justified by the ideology du jour. The Muslim extremists largely funded by the empire are the enemy now, right?

Or maybe the war on communism is back on again as Russia sits astride her thawing permafrost full of petroleum reserves? Certainly Venezuela is in the empire's cross hairs now, because socialism and oil just don't mix well for the former Exxon executives in Washington DC.

Source: archives, Imperial War Museum, London (colorized)

No mention of any of that in Jackson's disingenuous personal introduction to his film. He didn't want to impose his views, he tells viewers, as if the curating and assembling of two hours of footage from the hundreds of hours collected by the museum were a morally neutral act devoid of political agency.

Like Ken Burns' VIETNAM WAR documentary, this film made to mark an important anniversary of an imperial war is the wolf of war porn in the sheep's clothing of archival footage.

Remember how THE WIZARD OF OZ burst into technicolor to signal that Dorothy (Judy Garland) is not in Kansas anymore? THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD bursts into colorization to signal that the scrawny teens of working class England have entered the Great War. With their undernourished limbs whipped into shape by regular meals and bullying drill sergeants, they start to resemble an imperial army. As long as they keep their mouths shut; nothing, apparently, would be done about their fantastically bad teeth. The rot lurking in their goofy smiles as they head off for their great adventure is an omen.

Source: archives, Imperial War Museum, London (colorized)

The industrial scale carnage is no surprise to us but it was to many of the lads. Amid the cacophony one can almost hear the ka-ching of the cash register as merchants of death offscreen supply the machinery of war. Real human beings firing missile after missile aren't worth much and are easily replaced amid the sophisticated propaganda campaigns and coward-shaming back home.

It's a deeply sexist film, but such an ugly and amoral picture of human endeavor made me proud to be an anti-military woman. There are no nurses ever at any point in the film, which is historically ignorant, nor suffragette antiwar activists. Just a few moms who don't want their sons mangled, and lots of prostitutes. As the credits roll, we're treated to a lengthy version of a contemporaneous song with rude lyrics about women, for example:

Oh, Mademoiselle from Armentieres, Parlez-vous? (repeat) 
She'll do it for wine, she'll do it for rum, 
And sometimes for chocolate or chewing gum!

It's unclear to me why Jackson displays his lack of analysis or historical perspective devoid of ethics as if they were sources of pride. Sexism -- and racism -- hiding behind historical drama is a hallmark of what passes for Anglo culture in the 21st century.

It may be true, but it's nothing to be proud of.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Skowhegan School Board Director Poirier Ignores Legal Vulnerability, Brings NAGA To Town

Birds of a feather flock together. Pretendians and actual Native supporters of Covington Catholic School boys who mocked Native ceremonial drumming at an Indigenous People's Day March in Washington DC last month while wearing clothing with the slogan "Make America Great Again".

Skowhegan school board director Jennifer Poirier has decided to ignore her legal vulnerability for bias in conducting MSAD 54's business of educating children.

Plowing straight ahead into that particular storm, in her capacity as an organizer for the Skowhegan "Indian Pride" (SIP) group she has invited the Native American Guardians Association (NAGA) to Skowhegan for an invitation-only event to be held at the bowling alley.

NAGA was established by people affiliated with the Washington R#%$kin$ football franchise and their efforts to resist calls to retire their racist team name.

The sports site Deadspin has been following their efforts in Washington DC as well as their involvement in local mascot controversies at schools in New York and Utah, among other places. 

Post from Cedar High School, Utah mascot controversy where the "R*dmen" were recently retired. Posted by Not Your Disappearing Indian podcaster Jacqueline Keeler.

Now, NAGA will come to Maine.

So much for SIP's constant refrain that they are tired of people from "away" telling them what to do about the Indian team name they claim is a purely local issue.

Probably the most convincing evidence that NAGA does not actually represent Maine's Native people is their own statement, "NAGAs[sic] mission is to preserve and perpetuate Native American culture..."  As we know, Maine alone has four Native groups, each with their own distinctive culture which includes language. Passamoquoddy is not Penobscot, and vice versa, etc. 

There is literally no such thing as Native American culture, singular.

(Also, the white people who lead NAGA might want to study their own cultural practices around correct use of the possessive apostrophe.)

MSAD 54 school board members should probably listen to legal advice and check themselves before they wreck themselves. What they do during board meetings is protected by insurance in place to cover any liabilities incurred while conducting official business. We, the taxpayers, pay those insurance premiums, presumably because there would be too much risk to an individual making policy decisions that might lead to a lawsuit. What directors do outside of board meetings is not protected unless they have their own insurance for this. They are acting as individuals, and can be held liable as such.

For broader context, here's news of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan filing a federal discrimination complaint against the Paw Paw Public School district. What's the mascot/team name at Paw Paw High School? The R#%$kin$.

(I use a euphemism for this name because of the connotation of scalping and bloodletting that were foundational to the attempted genocide targeting indigenous people in North America.)

The ACLU of Maine has already notified Poirier and the other MSAD 54 directors, on more than one occasion, that they consider the team name Indians violates non-discrimination statutes that schools receiving federal funds must observe.

This screenshot from the SIP Facebook group indicates that changers who want to weigh in at the event this Sunday, February 24 from 1-3pm at the bowling alley would do well to stand on the public road (Route 201) with their signs.

As someone who has exercised my 1st amendment rights in Skowhegan on many, many Sundays, I feel safe in saying that the local police are well aware of where people may engage in political speech. Hooray for the Constitution!

As for why pretendians and some actual Native people from away represent for NAGA, we know that the majority owner of the Washington NFL franchise and its branding is very, very wealthy. Could be it's all about the Benjamins, baby.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Skowhegan Elementary Teacher: Many Teachers Want Mascot Retired, But Board Does Not Listen To Us

As the adult child of an alcoholic, I experience stress around listening to excuses. Ironically, for the last 25 years I've worked as a public school teacher and listening to excuses is part of the job. 

This condition of mine made it challenging to go door-to-door in Skowhegan last Sunday. 

My canvassing partner and I listened to several versions of stuff white people say when they are excusing their own failure to show up for racial justice. 

The gist of what they told us went something like this: I am in my [white privilege] comfort zone and I won't do anything that might take me out of that zone. 

Of course no one actually used the words white privilege. Its tremendous power rests on its pervasive yet invisible nature.

The person who articulated it best shared that they only leave online political comments under a disguised name. They gave the example that they are against Trump, but if they had a bumper sticker that was anti-Trump, someone would trash their car. This person also thought the mascot controversy was fairly new and was quite surprised to find that Native people have been requesting that it change since 1990. They characterized the eventual retirement of the "Indian" team name as inevitable, but they weren't sure if it would take another 5 or even 10 years. And they certainly weren't going to help hasten the process even though they freely admitted it would be the right thing to stop being offensive in the 21st century.

I don't see why this is a problem, is what several of the less politically aware folks told canvassers. Many others stated that they were of two minds, that they could see both sides, clearly feeling that this was the perfect excuse not to get involved.

We hope the mascot will have retired by spring, and we await the February 28 school board meeting with interest.

However, if the pretendians are still around come spring, then we'll canvass again. As we did last Sunday, we'll offer information on the local history of Native people, why the American Psychological Association found Native mascots harmful to all students, and copies of lovely posters reminding us that we are on indigenous land.

Summary of Door Notes Sheets
Skowhegan canvass Feb. 10, 2019

FOR CHANGE: 7 (39%)

  1. Support, concerned with how we get there
  2. Support, has high school kids
  3. Saw both side, no kids
  4. Yes!!!
  5. Yes!!!
  6. Thinks stay same, a middle school kid
  7. Didn’t open door, wants to keep mascot, gave public comment
  8. Hadn’t heard much, in support of change, not interested in being involved
  9. No opinion, no convo
  10. 50/50, went to the high school, receptive, took our handouts
  11. 50/50, thinks we should educate, we’re doing good work, husband’s school in Sanford changed name. Did not want to sign anything or take papers. Seemed a little defensive/cautious. Doesn’t think mascot was initially meant to upset anyone.
  12. Not down to talk
  13. Supportive / but attached to name. The longer we spoke the more he was convinced. “If we change this, we’ll have to change more.” Thought mascot was degrading but not name.
  14. Sympathetic, not willing to take action.
  15. Didn’t know much about the controversy, talked about pride, took historical info & Hope’s essay
  16. Haven’t given it much thought, don’t see why the controversy is “so ugly”
  17. Did not engage
  18. In favor of change, Skowhegan elementary school teacher, said many teachers want change but school board doesn’t listen to staff

I find #18 particularly compelling. MSAD 54 school board directors, are you listening?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

An Infographic Worth A Thousand Words On Retiring The Skowhegan Pretendian Mascot

Glad to share this infographic presentation of events around retiring the Skowhegan "Indian" mascot created by Eden Dyer of Students for Democratic Socialism at Southern Maine Community College.

Dyer shared her work with these links to sources for her information:

If I get a snow day tomorrow I will report back on our door-to-door canvass in Skowhegan last Sunday. It was interesting, educational and rather depressing.