Wells Mascot Committee Takes Secret Vote on Using Native American Imagery

The Wells Mascot Advisory Committee possibly violated “state open meeting laws,” on Wednesday, when they took a secret vote on finalizing a decision on what to do about the Native American imagery on their district’s schools and athletic teams. This vote covered all grades, from K-12, and any formalized changes would be assimilated by primary & secondary grades in the district.

As one who’s worked in the anti-racism field for the last twenty years or so, it’s ironic to me, that the committee decided to take a secret ballot. The “veil of secrecy” adds to the flavor that something needs to be hidden, or behind all of this there’s a smoking gun.

In reality, any decisions respecting Native Americans, should be an open, dialog process (that apparently took place with “town hall” meetings, etc.), when the committee was gathering info and listening to community members; this is especially true for Native Americans who’ve gotten the rawest end of the deal, in terms of accessibility, full inclusion, and full-equality in our nation’s her-story.

If the committee had opened up the vote, this would have created even more understanding & cooperation, perhaps, among Native Americans and European Americans in the State of Maine, regarding mascots.

In November, 2017 the Mascot Committee was authorized to move forward in this process by the school committee; this was just three weeks after Amelia Tuplin, a Micmac Native American from Lisbon, alleged that fans at the October 13 game (Wells playing Lisbon at home), mocked Native American culture with their behaviors; community members resisted this allegation, and many felt her allegations unfairly highlighted the community for everyday actions “that had intent to offend.”

Alright, when we start talking about discrimination or community bias, we (white, European Americans) are not what this is all about. It doesn’t really matter about our intentions or motives. Conversely, it’s the meaning these routine mascots have for Native Americans, their culture & spirituality, nor ours. This gap seems even larger when one recognizes that Native Americans are the First Nations, and actually the first Americans, living in the land when the first settlers arrived from Europe.

It’s curious, too, that only two other high schools in Maine are currently using Native American images associated with their athletic teams.

Here’s a scenario you can try on to see if it fits for you: let’s suppose that you have two football teams playing against each other. All of one team’s cheerleaders are dressed in nun’s habits or outer clothing. They’ve all got rosary beads as jewelry around their necks & chests. In their dance routine, they dance like the Rockettes, kicking legs way up in the air, in a way many might see as indecent or “showing too much skin.”

How would you feel if you were watching this football game, and you counted yourself a devout Catholic? I bet some of you would be highly offended, and call for their removal.

Maybe this comparison can help us to see how white’s use of Native American imagery is a diss to them, and a trivializing of very significant meanings for them, too. In order for any project or endeavor to be effective, there has to be genuine respect & transparency at the center of whatever you’re doing.

It’s like choosing any, one word, and to explain its meaning; you point out that this word has a certain meaning. But whose meaning is it? It’s not just a literal, dictionary meaning? A good rule of thumb is this: “Words don’t mean, people mean.” In this case, the most important meaning for Native Americans is what those images symbolize to them, not to us. Their meaning contains a kaleidoscope of elements, such as culture, beliefs, values, worldview, her-story, spirituality, livelihood, etc.

One person who attended the meeting, Meghan Schneider, a Wells High School student said, “A big part of what I took away is that our whole community has a very open mind about everything that’s going on. Everyone listened to everybody and we heard both sides and I think everyone was willing to listen and learn.”

Joe Searles, 71, said, “I think the school didn’t realize that we were offending them and their religious beliefs.”

At this point, Wells-Ogunquit School Superintendent, James Daly emphasized that the final decision-regardless of any recommendations, will rest with the school committee.

copyright:christopherbearbeam May 24, 2018