Time for another powwow?

At the School Board meeting on February 27, the issue of the mural of a Native American chief on the wall of the Plummer Gym surfaced.   An unnamed person apparently asked the superintendent whether the portrait complied with Maine’s newly enacted anti-Native American mascot law.  The superintendent referred the inquiry to the School Board.

At the Board meeting a lawyer from the schools’ legal firm (Drummond Woodsum) reviewed the new law, noting that the portrait in question does not violate the new law.  She added that in her opinion it may violate the “spirit” of the law.  She concluded that any action on the mural would be a policy matter and not a legal one.  Members of the School Board suggested that the high school community and the community at large should engage in a discussion of what action, if any, to take with respect to the mural in question.

The context is important!

From the late 1930s until 2000, Scarborough High School’s mascot was the Redskins.  After a spirited community discussion, the mascot was changed to the current Red Storm in 2001. 

At the time the decision was made, the Plummer Gym mural was specifically addressed.  There’s a small plaque next to the mural.  You need to know what’s on that plaque to understand why the mural was purposely not removed at the time of the mascot change.  Here’s the text of the plaque:

“This mural depicts Scarborough High School’s mascot from the 1930’s to 2000.  In 2001, the mascot was changed to the RED STORM.  This mural remains in the gym in honor of the artist, Mr. Robert Scammon, a long time teacher at Scarborough High School who painted two such murals.  One can be found high on the wall above the ceiling in the old gymnasium, which is now 101.  This mural will remain as a testimony to Mr. Scammon’s talents and his commitment to the students of Scarborough High School.    January 2002”

So Mr. Scammon’s mural has endured for nearly twenty years after the retirement of the Redskins mascot – as a tribute to his dedication to the students of Scarborough High School.  For twenty years this symbol of the past has served two purposes without rancor – to honor a dedicated educator and to remind us of an earlier time and its values.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This 1613 map of the Saco Bay area by Champlain shows much Native American activity in our area at that time.

Scarborough has a long history of interaction between indigenous people and the early European explorers and settlers.  Some of that history is messy.  (There is, for instance, a real event that gave rise to the name of Massacre Pond.)  But trying to erase history is the easy and dangerous way out.  A far better approach is to know the history, understand it and learn from it.  Let’s hope the Town comes together for a rational and civil discussion of this matter.

Public comment invited

School Board members invited public input on the mural.  We’re not sure how that input will be solicited, but one very direct and easy method is to send an email expressing your feelings about the mural to the School Board members.  One email address will send your message to all members of the Board: boe@scarboroughschools.org.  Please take a couple of minutes and let your voice be heard.

Note to the Language Police:

“Powwow” is a good, honest, hard-working word.  It, like many other words, came from another language and culture.  To reflexively label every word — or image — of Native American origin or reference as “cultural appropriation” and consign it to the scrap heap of political incorrectness is not an intellectually meaningful or helpful exercise.  Like society, language evolves over time.  Let’s not strip it of its vibrancy based on the rigid, self-righteous judgments of self-appointed cultural guardians.

Much more to come

That’s all for now, folks.  There’s much more to come as budget time is upon us.  At the last School Board meeting it was also announced that an agreement in principle has been reached with the teachers’ union.  Based on the preliminary numbers that have been made public so far, be prepared for sticker shock.

Also, we have added a Facebook page to our communications tools.  Please check out the page and like it — here’s the link.

Happy trails until next time!

Be neighborly,

TT Hannah

(nom de blog of Steve Hanly)







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