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ACLU asks Wells-Ogunquit School Committee to retire ‘Warriors’ mascot

Wells High School football team fans cheer during the Maine Class C State Football Championship game in Portland in November 2016. (Troy R. Bennett | BDN)

WELLS (BDN) -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine has sent a letter to the Wells-Ogunquit School Committee urging the board to retire the Wells High School “Warriors” mascot.

The announcement comes only two days after Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians announced that the organization will remove the controversial “Chief Wahoo” logo from their uniforms and caps starting in 2019.

A release put out by the ACLU suggests that the Wells High School mascot and logo perpetuate damaging Native American stereotypes.

The Wells-Ogunquit School Committee was expected to review the topic during a meeting on Wednesday night.

“There is no room in 2018 for school-sponsored racial mockery,” said Emma Bond, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maine and author of the letter to the committee, in a press release. “It’s time for Wells to let go of this harmful tradition.”

Wells, along with Nokomis High School of Newport (Warriors) and Skowhegan High School (Indians), are the three remaining Maine high schools that use a Native American mascot.

The ACLU’s decision to interject itself into the situation came after it was contacted by Amelia Tuplin, a Mi’kmaq Indian who witnessed behavior and portrayals of Native Americans that she deemed offensive when attending a Wells High School football game last fall, according to a report in the York County Coast Star.

During the October game between Wells and Lisbon High School, where her son plays, she saw Wells students wearing feather headdresses and “war paint” and performing mock Native American chants and dances.

According to the ACLU, Tuplin had thought the students were going through the actions to target her son, but discovered instead that the situation was a common occurrence at Wells football games.

The ACLU states in its letter that eliminating the “Warriors” mascot would “help ensure the school is in compliance with federal and state laws that protect students from discrimination at school, including protection against a hostile environment on the basis of race.”

In the wake of the incident in October, Wells-Ogunquit Community School District Superintendent James Daly said school officials were trying to get educated on the topic.

“We are talking to the people who have reached out to us on both sides of this issue, and we will reach out to more and more people as we move through this,” Daly told the York County Coast Star. “People want instant resolution, but we want to be very thoughtful and thorough and do our due diligence, and that takes time.”

The ACLU cited in its letter that studies have demonstrated using Native American mascots lowers the self-esteem of native students and teaches students that racial stereotyping is acceptable. It said that in 2005 the American Psychiatric Association publicly called for “the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots” because they teach “misleading, and too often, insulting images of American Indians.” More than 100 civil rights, educational, athletic and scientific organizations have made similar statements.

Several Maine high schools, including Old Town, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, Sanford, Scarborough and Wiscasset, have retired such symbols during the last several years.

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