AUGUSTA, Maine — Although there are no schools left in Maine that use Native American imagery as mascots, Maine lawmakers argued over a bill to ban them from public schools and eventually passed the bill by an 88-45 vote on Tuesday.
The bill LD 944 "An Act To Ban Native American Mascots in all Public Schools" passed the Maine House on April 23 and became one step closer to becoming state law even though it would most likely not affect any community. The bill now goes to the State Senate.
The last Native American mascot in Maine at Skowhegan High School was retired in March 2019 after the School Board there voted 14 to 9 to end the "Indian" name and imagery.
Some state lawmakers argued that the bill was a violation of freedom of speech, was too expansive and took control away from local school districts on the House floor. Those who supported the bill said using Native American imagery as a mascot was a civil rights issue and the state needed to set a precedence.
Maine's sole tribal representative Passamaquoddy Nation's Rena Newell waited until the debate among lawmakers came to a close to ask her colleagues to support the bill and ban Native American mascots in Maine schools.
Rep. Newell said she listened to both sides of the debate and asked all lawmakers to be open. She said the bill was not a partisan issue and lawmakers should listen to their hearts and work together.
"This is an issue to improve the relationships with the tribes that live here with you...Let us walk together," said Newell as she asked fellow lawmakers to look at her before the House voted.
She added passionately, "I'm going to tell you who I am. I am just as you are. A human, that works, that studies, that raises a family, that takes care of the children and my grandchildren. I am no different than you are. Only I belong to a different culture."
Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) spoke about discrimination. She also read a letter from Malian Dana. Dana is a member of the Penobscot Nation and she has been vocal about this bill.
"According to the Department of Justice statistics," Talbot Ross said. "American Indians are more likely than people of other races to experience violence at the hands of someone of a different race."
Earlier in the debate, Rep. Betty Austin (D - Skowhegan) argued that local school districts should be able to decide whether they would allow Native American mascots. Rep. Joel Stetkis (R - Canaan) called the bill "dangerous" and a breach of freedom of expression and finally said there would be no penalty for schools who did not comply so what was the point.
Rep. Michael Brennan (D - Portland) argued that the State had to set precedence and tell school districts that using Native American imagery as a mascot was not acceptable. Brennan said the bill represented a civil rights issue saying every child in Maine should be able to go to school and not have their culture and identity trivialized by a mascot.
Rep. Thomas Skolfield (R - Weld) along with Rep. Josanne Dolloff (R - Rumford) said the Maine people had already spoken by changing their mascots on their own and so there was no need to pass such a bill.