SKOWHEGAN, Maine — Earlier this year, the MSAD 54 School Board voted to remove Skowhegan Area High School's controversial "Indian" nickname, but one business in town is continuing to produce Skowhegan Indian apparel.
"There's a lot of support in this central Maine area, Skowhegan specifically, to keep this Indian name," said Todd Smith, owner of Maine Fire Equipment Co.
Smith has been producing school spirit gear for Skowhegan fans, as well as multiple other towns in the area, for more than 10 years. He also is an active member of the MSAD 54 School Board. He says he doesn't plan to stop selling the gear as long as a demand from the public is still there.
"Whether they're native american or not, they grew up in Skowhegan as a Skowhegan Indian and they want that remembrance. They want that ball cap, they want the shirt, they want something that says, this is who I am," said Smith.
Skowhegan Area High School has not selected a new mascot for this year's school year.
There is nothing in the school board's code of ethics that prevents Smith from selling gear with imagery similar to the school's former logo. Smith says screen printing and selling school spirit gear is just one small aspect of his business.
Superintendent of MSAD 54 Brent Colbry told NEWS CENTER Maine in a statement, "I cannot comment on what any board member does in their own private lives or businesses. However, as a matter of policy, the district does not support or endorse any activity by an individual member that has not been authorized by the full Board."
Superintendent Colbry added: "I would report that the District has made every effort over the summer to fully comply with the Board’s action last spring and the new State law regarding the elimination of the use of Native American imagery in our schools. The Board’s efforts are now focused on moving forward in a positive direction for kids."
Some say, however, that the continued use of native american imagery is offensive to indigenous people.
"They've taken this history of the town and really applied it to themselves when really it's not their identity, they're not indigenous people," said Penobscot Nation ambassador Maulian Dana.
Dana was at the forefront of the most recent, and successful, effort to remove the school's controversial mascot. She says she's received multiple threats since posting about Smith's shirts, and received even more while she was actively working to have the school board vote to remove the nickname.
"I think there's a way they can honor that history, and feel pride in their town without misappropriating the identity and disrespecting the culture of another group," Dana said.
Skowhegan has roots of Native American history deeply ingrained in the town. The town's seal features an indigenous person, as do many of its town vehicles. It's also home to the "World's Tallest Indian," a 62-foot sculpture depicting an indigenous person.
Smith says as long as the demand is there, he will likely continue to produce his shirts.
"If and when Skowhegan chooses a new mascot, we'll transition production into the new mascot. I'm not going to say we'll ever do away with the Indian merchandise, because if people want it, that's what we're going to produce," he said.
Skowhegan hosts its first home football game of the season Friday. Smith expects many fans to be in attendance with Skowhegan Indian gear.