School officials may consider changing Wells High’s nickname and logo in the wake of complaints that Native Americans were mocked at a football game.
Amelia Tuplin, the mother of a Micmac Indian who plays quarterback at Lisbon High School, said the behavior of fans and players at Wells High last Friday was racially offensive. Wells’ nickname is the Warriors and its logo features a Native American wearing a feathered headdress. Tuplin charged that students wore face paint, pounded buckets as if they were drums, and performed mock dances and chants, including hand-over-mouth sounds.
In a special session of the Wells-Ogunquit school committee Wednesday night, Superintendent James P. Daly absolved fans and players of intentionally engaging in offensive behavior after an investigation that included several interviews and review of video surveillance, game film and photographs taken during the game.
“We do not believe that the fans or team members knowingly or intentionally engaged in conduct that was disrespectful of Native American culture,” Daly wrote in a letter sent to Tuplin after the committee meeting.
Tuplin, reached by phone on Thursday, called Daly’s response “a one-sided, biased, rushed investigation.” She said she plans to file a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission.
“It’s disturbing that he’s denying and downplaying this,” Tuplin said. “But that will be for him to deal with.”
COMMUNITY TO BE INVOLVED
Chairwoman Helena Ackerson said in an email that the “full School Board supports the statement that Jim made, and we also support the findings from the investigation.”
Daly also told Tuplin of plans by the school committee to review the Wells High mascot and logo.
“While I cannot share exactly what that process will be, please know it will be one that is thoughtful, deliberate and engages our two communities,” he said in the letter, which he shared with the Portland Press Herald.
Ackerson also said the committee’s review will include a community forum.
“Over the past few days, the district has heard from many, both pro and con, as well as from folks who have researched the impact of schools who use Native American nicknames and logos,” Daly wrote in his letter. The superintendent did not respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.
Daly also sent an email to district parents on Thursday explaining the situation.
“We do not believe that the fans or team members knowingly or intentionally engaged in conduct that was disrespectful of Native American culture.
“Having said that, we are open to further discussion about any measures that we could take to promote an environment in our school community that is respectful of people of all cultures, races and national origins.”
Since 2001, four Maine high schools have removed Native American nicknames.
Wells and Nokomis High of Newport both use the Warriors nickname, with Native American logos. Both Southern Aroostook and Fort Kent high schools use Warriors, but without Native American imagery.
Skowhegan High held several public forums on its nickname Indians in 2015, but its school board voted to keep the name. At the time, a complaint about the nickname was filed by a member of the Penobscot Nation with the state Human Rights Commission, but no action was taken.
Dan Lebowitz, executive director of The Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University, said his center often deals with controversial mascots.
“A lot of time people say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But a fan has not had the experience of degradation that people of color have experienced,” Lebowitz said. “To use a mascot of an indigenous population of the United States, you’re not seeing the world through the eyes of the Native American.
“It’s really important not to use those (types of) mascots.”
NEGATIVE STEREOTYPES DENIED
In his letter to Tuplin, Daly said Wells students did use five-gallon pails as drums during Friday’s game, but only as a noisemaker, along with cowbells and horns “to support the team.”
He said administrators and faculty “heard no chants or hand over mouth sounds that they would associate with negative stereotyping of Native American culture.”
Daly did not mention face paint, but said cheerleaders did have stickers with a red “W” on their cheeks.
Concerning Tuplin’s claim of mock dancing by players, Daly said the team does perform a “break-down” after wins, which is “a post-game tradition dating back to 1985.”
Tuplin reiterated Thursday that she saw students with “fabricated head dresses, and painting on their faces that were clearly not school colors, and used in a mocking way.” She also claimed the buckets were more than noisemakers, and were “used to mock native drumming.”
Tuplin said she expects to file her complaint with the Human Rights Commission within 10 days.
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Wells High’s mascot is Warriors, and the press box at Memorial Field, where the football team plays its games, features a logo of a Native American wearing feathers.