Saturday, January 12, 2019

Now That Their Public Forum Overwhelmingly Rejected The Mascot, What Lies Ahead For Skowhegan?

Penobscot Youth Council members drove through an ice storm to be present for the Skowhegan mascot public forum.
Photo credit: Jeff Kirlin
Continuing my report back on the January 8 public forum, I want to say that Albie Barden was a particularly memorable speaker. Pursuing a "show, don't tell" strategy, Barden stepped to the mic not to call for more education about Native culture in our area, but to actually provide some.

Albie Barden  Photo credit: Jeff Kirlin
Barden honored his ancestors by carrying his father's garden hoe, one he still uses. Then he honored the bounty of the Earth by bringing flint corn and a local bean variety, both grown thousands of years ago locally. He also brought some salmon, a traditional food from the Kennebec River before it was dammed. He offered the board and everyone in the audience enough seed corn to grow it themselves, and spoke of his vision of everyone doing that. He modeled gratitude and respect. But, and this is important: he never claimed to be an Indian.

Penobscot member Skyler Lewie, 15, telling the board they cannot possibly know what it feels like to be in her shoes.
Photo: Jeff Kirlin
Overall, the strategic reach of the speakers for retirement was broad and deep. Some pointed out the moral imperative to respect others as we ourselves wish to be respected. Some pointed out the legal dangers of a publicly funded school system clinging to discriminatory practices. Some pointed out the economic dangers of doing things that are illegal.

Student Kayla Dickinson pointed out that racially motivated bullying at Skowhegan Area High School is a daily byproduct of a racist mascot being tolerated.

Dickinson reminded the board that students deserve a safe learning environment, and scolded the board for not providing that.

Several students pointed out how hard it is to play sports for teams perceived as racist throughout the state. 

Skowhegan Area Middle School student Carly McCabe told the board that running cross country as a "so-called Skowhegan Indian is embarrassing" and that she is further embarrassed because the board has done nothing about the mascot problem.
Photo credit: Jeff Kirlin

Some provided history lessons on the Norridgewock massacre in the 1700s, and some provided information on the effects of the mass removal of Native children from their families in the 1970s. Some provided citations for studies demonstrating the harm of Native mascots on young people's confidence and educational outcomes. Some listed the many, many education and psychology organizations on record opposing Native mascots.

(If this embedded video of the entire public forum does not work for you, you can view it here on YouTube.)

Interestingly, nobody spoke to an ongoing informal boycott both of business displaying Skowhegan Indian Pride signage, and of the town itself. Based on social media postings I've seen, there are numerous people who vote with their pocketbooks and decline to shop or dine there these days. Sadly, Skowhegan's identity as a sinkhole of racism is pretty well established by now and it will take years to undo it.

But, there are some glimmers of hope on the horizon.

Still from DAWNLAND.
Click here to download a free PDF of the DAWNLAND Viewer’s Guide.

A local arts council is working out a plan to screen the documentary DAWNLAND so people in Skowhegan can learn more about how the state of Maine treated Native families when I was in college.

You can also see DAWNLAND today, January 12, at 11am on Maine Public Broadcasting's Independent Lens.

Also, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) central Maine chapter is looking into organizing a door knocking campaign similar to one I participated in last year in Augusta (you can read about that here).

There are lots of other ideas floating around, too. The time is right to move in a positive direction.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Adelle Belanger On The Racist Backlash After Skowhegan Mascot Public Forum

Screenshot from Somerset Community TV 11 video of Jan. 8 forum

With permission from the author, today I share Adelle Belanger's report back on the racist backlash she experienced and witnessed following her testimony at the January 8 public forum on the Skowhegan Area High School "Indian" mascot. Belanger is a senior at SAHS.

Full video of the forum, including her remarks which begin at the 8:52 mark, may be seen here on YouTube. Thanks to Somerset Community television 11 for their coverage.

Today, my Indigenous classmate was called a c*nt for sharing her opinion on HER school's mascot.
Today, I read racist comments first hand, and called out people who insisted that I was a liberal troll.
Today, I saw white people claim to be Native to say they are not offended by the mascot.
Today, I saw people commenting that my friend who is a reporter should jump in a lake for reporting accurately on the public forum about the mascot.
Today, I saw people claim that two Natives I look up to and respect were ignorant pot stirrers and that they were the real racists.
Today, I saw some of the meanest comments I've ever seen. And trust me, I've seen some mean ones.
Today, I heard people say that all four of Maine's federally recognized tribes were oversensitive crybabies who had nothing better to focus on. All four of them.
Today, I gave people evidence they ignored.
Today, I explained myself over and over, just because I know it's the right thing to do, even if it will not change any minds.
Today, I saw people say that they didn't care how Natives feel about the mascot.
Today, I was so drained. I can not imagine what it must be like for people who can not get away from this. I have the option not to post. I have the option not to engage. The mascot affects my life very little. I am so saddened to think of the people who can't escape this. The Natives who have to explain themselves over and over. The people who get ridiculed for defending themselves and their culture.
For my friends that are still on the fence, I ask you to look at the type of people who are unwilling to change. If you don't support change, you are not honoring Native Americans.
Look at your heroes. What side would they be on? Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, the likes. Who would they support?
-- Adelle Belanger, class of 2019, Skowhegan Area High School
originally posted January 9, 2018