Maine Takes Action Against Native American Sports Team Names

A bill signed by the state’s governor prohibits Native American-themed team names at public schools.

Maine State House
Maine's governor signed a bill prohibiting Native American-themed team names at public schools.
stgermh/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / May 19, 2019 3:13 pm

Efforts to end the practice of naming sports teams after Native Americans have taken many forms, including a high-profile trademark lawsuit against a certain football team based in Washington, D.C and supposedly trying to cut down on chants that might offend. Recently, the state of Maine took a bold step in this direction: a bill, signed by Governor Janet Mills, prohibits “public schools, colleges and universities from using Native American symbols as mascots.”

The bill’s wording is succinct: “A public school may not have or adopt 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.”

According to a recent CNN report, the last public high school in Maine to have a Native American-themed mascot, Skowhegan, voted in favor of changing said mascot to something else. The vote, which took place in March, came after a heated debate.

For some, this law was a long time in coming. CNN noted the presence of Maulian Dana, Ambassador to the Penobscot Nation, at the signing ceremony, along with her daughter. A 2017 profile of Dana detailed her many years of activism on the subject, which began when she was a high school student.

Maine is the first state to enact such a law, but it’s probably not the last: a number of other states have discussed similar efforts, including Maine’s neighbor to the south, Massachusetts. The debate over Native American-themed team names has been going on for a while; with laws like Maine’s, there may be some resolution to it, at least on a state level.

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