Native American team names and common sense

10 years ago

With the fall high school sports season just around the corner, the subject of Native American nicknames will undoubtedly be back in the headlines again.
As of now, only Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook, Nokomis Regional High School in Newport and Wells High School still use Warriors as their team nickname, while Skowhegan Area High School athletes are still known as the Indians.
I have mixed views on the subject after spending many years working and living in Skowhegan and residing for more than 20 years in RSU 19, home of the Nokomis Warriors.
Back when I was editor of the now-defunct Somerset Reporter, there were two murals on the Skowhegan Area High School gymnasiums depicting Native Americans. One was a rather attractive Indian princess while the other was a caricature of a hawk-nosed male with a menacing look wielding a tomahawk over his head.
Eventually, the cartoon character was replaced with a depiction of the town of Skowhegan’s official logo: a brave kneeling by a stream holding a spear.
There were several Native American kids at the school back then who took the name’s nickname in stride. One joked that he was the only “real” Indian on the football team.
At the other end of the state, however, Native American nicknames started falling like dominoes. The Portland Press Herald, then edited by Jeannine Guttman, announced that the paper would no longer publish the word Redskins in its sports coverage. This not only applied to the Washington NFL team, but to Scarborough, Sanford and Wiscasset high schools.
I don’t recall how quickly Sanford and Scarborough threw in the towel, but Wiscasset stubbornly hung on to the name for years.
The anti-Native American nickname movement soon spread northward. Notable changes were the Old Town Indians becoming the Coyotes and the Husson University Braves morphing into the Eagles.
So while conservatives poke fun at Maine’s “political correctness,” there are valid reasons why we should question using stereotypes that might have been acceptable 50 or 100 years ago.
Before the Civil Rights Act was passed in the 1960s, it was perfectly acceptable for public drinking fountains in the south to be marked “white” and “colored.” You could legally list your apartment in the classified ads as “white only” or “whites preferred.” We’ve evolved since then, thankfully.
Personally, I don’t like the name Redskins. But I don’t consider the term Warriors, Braves or Indians any more offensive than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or the Edmonton Eskimos.
But I’m an old white guy. I don’t live on Indian Island or the Passamaquoddy Reservation. So my feelings really shouldn’t count.
Sooner or later, we have to accept the fact that compassion and common sense are more important than tradition. So expect the dialogue to continue.
Still, I’m still hanging onto my Nokomis Warriors’ baseball cap. At the very least, it may be a collectors’ item someday.
Mike Lange is a staff writer with the Piscataquis Observer.