Gov. Janet Mills, shown at the April signing ceremony to establish
Indigenous Peoples' Day. (Maine Gov. Janet Mills, shown at
the April signing ceremony to establish Indigenous Peoples
Day. (photo by Robert F. Bukaty)
Twenty years ago, Maulian Dana was watching a Maine high school
basketball game between two teams called the "Indians" and the "Warriors."
Her gaze drifted toward the student sections, where she saw kids
chanting and dancing with fake feathers and war paint on their bodies.
It was the first time she saw things she knew as "sacred and religious"
to thePenobscot Nation being "mocked and degraded."
Her 15-year-old self was angry and shocked, she said, but she turned
her frustration into activism. Today Dana is a tribal ambassador
of Penobscot Nation who spearheaded the drafting of a bill signed
into law Thursday by Gov. Janet Mills (D) that prohibits the use
of Native American mascots in all public schools, colleges and universities.
Maine is the first state to pass such a law.
"It means the world to me and I'm really happy for all the tribal
leaders in Maine that came together and all of our allies and friends
and Governor Mills," Dana said in a telephone interview.
The bill, which passed unanimously, will become effective 90 days
after the state legislature adjourns.
It prohibits public schools from "having or adopting 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."
high school newspaper opposed its school's 'Redskins' nickname,
and the debate is dividing the student body]
"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 statement.
"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."
Maine made national headlines in March when the school board in
Skowhegan voted to retire the Native American mascot at Skowhegan
Area High School after a debate that lasted more than four years.
It was the last
high school in the state that had a Native American mascot.
There have been recent protests to reinstate the mascot name at
Skowhegan, Dana said, but the signing of the ban into law Thursday
"seems to have sealed the deal."
"I think on the federal level something should be done as
well," said Rep. Benjamin Collings (D), who sponsored the bill and
advocates for other states to follow Maine's legislative actions.
"In Maine, we just realized that it is a distraction, is harmful
and not needed. We wanted to affirm what every town in the state
has said so far. It is harmful and there is no place for it."
Darren Ranco, chair of Native American Programs at the University
of Maine, said the publicity surrounding the Skowhegan case, along
with a grass roots movement in the state to retire Native American
mascots in public schools for about the last two decades, helped
lead to passage of the ban. Additionally, in late April, Maine became
one of the growing number of states to replace
Columbus Day with indigenous Peoples' Day.
"In terms of how the politics lined up and the makeup of our legislature,
it felt like if this was the time," said Ranco, who has taught about
this issue for about 15 years and advised research on the topic.
"If we were going to do a law like this, this would be our opportunity.
It was a unique set of factors."
Ranco said a ban was supported by studies and research over the
years, such as a 2005
report by the American Psychological Association, which called
for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols,
images and personalities. The report stated: "These mascots are
teaching stereotypical, misleading and too often, insulting images
of American Indians. These negative lessons are not just affecting
American Indian students; they are sending the wrong message to
"These are actually harmful for Native American children in particular
and pretty much harmful to all children how they misrepresent a
whole group of people in society," Ranco said in a telephone interview.
"In Maine, Maine has been one of the states that native people here
have been active in pursuing this kind of outcome in terms of the
public education side of it."
Ranco and Dana are hopeful that the bill passed in Maine will spark
more activism in other states, with the potential for other legislation
banning Native American mascots. Several states have similar restrictions,
while others have called for the end of the use of mascots.
"When I was a teenager I got laughed out of a lot of rooms, I got
booed by other high schoolers," Dana said. "So if you were to tell
me back then that someday I would be standing in the statehouse
while the governor signed a law just saying these mascots would
not be used anymore, it would have been incredibly reassuring, but
I wouldn't have believed you. We've definitely come a long way."