AUGUSTA — Maine is set to make history later this year as the first state to ban the use of all Native American mascots in its public schools.
On Thursday, Governor Janet Mills signed into law LD 944, which had passed the Maine State Senate and House of Representatives last month. Specifically, the bill prohibits state schools from using “a name, symbol or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school.”
“While Indian mascots were often originally chosen to recognize and honor a school’s unique connection to Native American communities in Maine, we have heard clearly and unequivocally from Maine tribes that they are a source of pain and anguish,” Mills said in a release. “A mascot is a symbol of pride, but it is not the source of pride. Our people, communities and understanding and respect for one another are Maine’s source of pride, and it is time our symbols reflect that.”
The bill’s passage comes two months after School Administrative District 54 Board members voted to retire use of Skowhegan High School’s Indians nickname. Prior to that decision, Skowhegan was the only high school in Maine still using a Native mascot name or a logo that included Native imagery. The signing of the bill prevents the district from reversing the decision via public referendum.
Tribal leaders and ambassadors, educators and lawmakers were present at the Blaine House as the bill was signed into law. Members of the Aroostook Band of Micmacs, Houlton Band of Maliseets, Passamaquoddy Tribe and Penobscot Nation have repeatedly spoken out against the use of Native American mascots names such as Skowhegan’s.
“We recognize this day as the start of a higher trust of promoting cultural diversity and awareness in place of any continuous social injustices towards one another,” said Rena Newell, a representative for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. “Today and for now on, it is our collective responsibility to the next generations to promote each other as equals, as individuals and, most importantly, as neighbors.”
Locally, Blue Hill Consolidated School and Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor have changed their names from the Indians in past years. BHCS rebranded as the Bobcats in 2000, and the Pemetic student body voted to make the Peregrines the school’s new mascot in December 2017 after years without one.
The new law will come into effect 90 days after the Maine State Legislature adjourns its current session. This year’s statutory adjournment date is set for June 19.