Saturday, March 23, 2019

Top 10 Reasons Why Maine Should Ban Native Mascots For School Sports

Photo shared by Jeff McCabe on Facebook.
The public hearing for LD 944, An Act to Ban Native Mascots in All Public Schools, is coming up. On Monday, March 25 at 1pm the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee of the 129th Maine legislature is in for quite a show.

Skowhegan "I#$%*& Pride" (SIP) supporters disrupted this week's school board meeting by chanting football cheers to show their displeasure at the board's vote on March 7 to retire the mascot

I imagine SIP thinks the Education committee can be swayed by their outpouring of support (they claim to have gathered 4,000 signatures calling for a referendum vote to overturn the school board's decision).

It's a mystery to me why the group waited until after the school board had debated the issue for months and held a vote to start their petition. Maybe they thought the school board vote would go their way, and they were unpleasantly surprised when it did not? The vote was not particularly close on March 7, with 14 voting in favor of change and 9 against; this translates to 558 for change vs. 441 against in the complicated representation scheme and weighted voting system of the Electoral College of school boards.

There was so much harassment and intimidation of board members who voted in 2015 in an unsuccessful attempt at retiring the mascot that several members of the current board kept mum about their views and voting intentions until the night of March 7.

I also received a threat of violence aimed at my weekly peace vigil on the bridge in Skowhegan, posted by Anonymous as a comment on my blog post after the vote:

Read the post and all comments here. A harasser from SIP did show up on the bridge last Sunday during our vigil, but the police chief had sent officers to monitor the situation, and no violence occurred.

Who will testify for change on Monday? Hopefully the ACLU of Maine. Maybe representatives from the governor and her education department, who have already come out in favor of changing the last Native high school mascot in Maine. Definitely Native representatives will be there.

I have to work, but my husband plans to attend and will give a ride to folks that want to get to Augusta but don't have access to a car that day.

I've already sent my written testimony to the Edu committee and received a reply from Rep. Michael Brennan who said he intends to support the bill. Yay! (Email addresses for the committee and text of my letter here). 

For those who have yet to weigh in here are my

Top 10 reasons why Maine should ban Native mascots and team names for school sports:

Screenshot of a sports booster item mocking the fact that Native people's scalps were sought by bounty hunters in colonial times.

1. Educational outcomes are adversely affected by discriminatory practices including stereotyping, mocking cultural customs, and cartoonish depictions of marginalized groups. Studies by psychologists have shown that not only the targeted group suffers; indeed, all students suffer when an educational entity appears to support discrimination.

2. Native parents and other elders have reported for years how painful it is to explain to young children at sporting events why their culture is being mocked. Native people are and historically have been the targets of racism in multiple ways, including having their children kidnapped by state agencies and raised in foster homes where they were punished for speaking their own languages. Native people's practice of their traditional ceremonies was illegal until 1978; encountering mockery of said traditions at a school basketball game is jarring and understandably takes the fun out of showing up and rooting for your team.

Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana speaking at school board public forum in Skowhegan on January 8, 2019.

3. The Penobscot Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Micmacs, Maine's federally recognized sovereign entities, have all sent representatives to request that MSAD 54 in Skowhegan retire their Native mascot/team name. They have expressed that they find it offensive, and that they do not feel honored as SIP claims the name is intended.

4. Schools are maintained by state funding and local tax revenues for the purpose of educating students, not placating alumni who can't seem to move beyond their high school years. Resources in Skowhegan have been diverted for years into debating the now-retired mascot; the board's budget process has fallen behind the usual timeline this spring, because so many meetings have been dominated by this one issue that concerns middle and high school sports teams.

Skowhegan Area Middle School student athlete Carly McCabe testifying to the school board on January 8 (full video of all testimonies is available here via Somerset Community TV 11).

5. Students in the last school district still using a Native team name reported being embarrassed to be called "I#$%^@*" by reporters and announcers at games. They report being reluctant to wear the team t-shirt or spending their own money to order, for example, a batting helmet without the offensive word printed on it. You can see video of their testimony to the school board at a public forum on January 8 here.

6. Skowhegan Area High School's representative to Girls State last summer reported feeling ostracized and embarrassed by her school district's reputation among other teens from around the state. She felt the need to stand up and explain that she is not racist. You can read her letter to the editor "Mascot puts town in bad light" here. Speech team judge and board member Amy Rouse testified to similar experiences at statewide speech tournaments, even though Skowhegan speech teams have not called themselves by a Native name for years now.

Photo by Ben Bulkeley "New mascot pumps up Wiscasset's fansWiscasset Newspaper, December 22, 2014.

7. Students in a school with a Native team name are unable to have a fun mascot in costume to perform at games. Schools that have changed found that choosing a new mascot and designing a costume for it to put the fun back into supporting their teams.

8. Horrific bullying -- including threats of violence, gang rape, (unsuccessful) attempts at getting changers in trouble at work, racial slurs and mockery of Native cultural practices -- characterize those who cling to Native team names. For example, on more than one occasion SIP has compared Native people with dogs.

screenshot from the Facebook group Skowhegan "I#$%@* Pride"
screenshot of a Twitter account claiming to represent Republicans in Skowhegan

9. If the bill passes, superintendents will be able to block regressive forces trying to turn back progress by noting that Native mascots are illegal in Maine. School districts can save on legal fees from actions addressing discrimination being brought against them, so superintendents can also argue that following the law is prudent from a financial perspective.

10. MAGA

Screenshot from YouTube video of Native elder Nathan Philips drumming and singing a song of peace while being mocked by students from Covington Catholic High School on a field trip in Washington DC, January 18, 2019.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Court Today For Activist Whose Dramatic Protests Bring Attention To Caged Kids #AbolishICE

Patricia Okoumou is a woman of conscience who could not stand by and watch children being separated from their parents and caged at the U.S.-Mexico border.

First on July 4 she climbed the Statue of Liberty with her banner and was arrested. I wrote about that at the time, and you can read that here.

In an interview with Democracy Now! this month she explained that the slogans on her attire are a response to the current First Lady who wore a jacket that said: I REALLY DON'T CARE DO U. Also Okoumou said she was inspired by our former First Lady, Michelle Obama, who was often targeted by ugly racists and who responded, "When they go low, we go high." 

Okoumou commented, "I went as high as I could."

Subsequently Okoumou, an immigrant herself from the Republic of Congo, targeted Juan Sanchez, a billionaire who profits from child detention in Texas. On Valentine's Day she joined a group shouting out love to the children kept inside, and calling for their release. Then she climbed Southwest Key, a building owned and operated by Sanchez. 

When Okoumou was interviewed by Paper magazine, reporter Michael Love Michael wrote that she said:
...the way conservative politicians talk about the family separation crisis is steeped in misleading and xenophobic rhetoric designed to keep people distracted. "You can't call human beings illegal; you can't call human beings aliens because our children are listening," she said. "Aliens come from outer space, and by calling our children that who want better lives, we are a detriment to them."

Most recently news that child separations and detentions were kept secret, that they generate profit for corporations like Northrup Gruman and Amazon, and that even infants have been separated from nursing mothers makes Okoumou's cause even more pressing for those who care what their government does in their name. 

Today activists will pack the courtroom in NYC for Okoumou's bail hearing. A bad judge sentenced her to house arrest claiming that she engages in activism because it is the only way she has to make a living. Shame on him. 

Those of us who can't be in court with Okoumou today can help by contributing to her defense fund and other expenses here:

Photo of an intact family protesting at City Hall in Los Angeles (source: Reuters)

Patricia Okoumou hears the children crying for their parents. Do you? (Trigger warning: this recording of their voices could make you cry, too).