Maine has become the first state to ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools. The controversial bill was signed Thursday by Gov. Janet Mills, the Bangor Daily News reports.
Legislators, who participated in a fiery debate over the the issue, ultimately voted along party lines to end the practice. The bill was aimed at the town of Skowhegan, in the RSU #54/MSAD #54 School District, which recently voted to end its use of the nickname “Indians” at its high school.
Mills acknowledged that the use of the word “Indians” was meant to honor Native Americans. However, tribal members prefer the nickname — and others like it — be abolished in Skowhegan, and at all other schools around the state.
Schools with controversial mascots have found themselves caught in a war between tradition and sensitivity. While many students, faculty and community members may cherish the history of school’s mascot, it could be offending others. As society moves towards greater cultural sensitivity, communities may need to be willing to leave behind old traditions for the sake of full community inclusion.
Four years ago, Sen. Henry Reid urged the University of Las Vegas to reconsider its use of the Rebel mascot after the shooting at a black church in Charleston. The Rebels mascot, which honors the Confederate Army, goes back to a time when Nevada more closely associated itself with the South. Ultimately, the name was not changed, but the discussion shows that often decades-old mascots may no longer reflect a school’s cultural values.
While not quite the same as a traditional mascot, Halloween costumes fall under the same microscope. Last year, Rochester Public Schools reported an incident that included a trio of white teenagers in racially charged costumes. Two of them were wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits and a third’s face was painted black. That act prompted the creation of the district’s Stronger Together initiative that features presentations and student speeches on the importance of being inclusive.