Maine has become the first state to ban public schools, colleges, and universities from using Native American symbols as their mascots, CNN reports. The measure was signed by Governor Janet Mills on Thursday, and the provision will go into effect 90 days after the adjournment of the legislature.
Specifically, the law will prohibit 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.”
Mills in a statement spoke to some of the sensitivities around the issue and explained some of the reasoning behind the legislation.
“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 prepared statement.
Representative Benjamin Collings, a Democrat, sponsored the legislation and indicated that he is proud that Maine is being sensitive to the state’s tribes.
“Our tribal communities laid the foundation of our state. They are people, not mascots,” he said in a statement, which was released by the governor’s office in connection with the signing.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed legislation banning the use of Native American symbols by public schools. https://t.co/maMSdKI51N
— HuffPost (@HuffPost) May 19, 2019
Ambassador Maulian Dana of the Penobscot Nation shared that since she was a teenager, she had been working with others in attempts to eliminate the Native American mascots in the state.
“It is very meaningful to have my daughter here at this signing ceremony along with our tribal leaders, allies and friends,” she said.
Such moves are not, however, without controversy. In March, the school board in Skowhegan voted to retire the “Skowhegan Indian” mascot, which represented Skowhegan Area High School. It was described at the time as the last high school in the state to still have a Native American mascot. As CBS affiliate WGME reported at the time, the removal of the Skowhegan Indian occurred only after lengthy and emotional debates from both sides of the issue. As public meetings were held, some enthusiastic proponents of the mascot even appeared with “Skowhegan Indian Supporter” signs and similar placards defending the use of the controversial mascot.
In that case, residents were largely divided between wanting to maintain the familiar tradition of the mascot and avoid bowing to political correctness versus eliminating the mascot in a show of respect for area Native Americans.