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Maine Banned Native American Mascots in Public Schools

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A man protests using Native Americans as mascots for sports teams at the 10th Annual New Years Eve Sobriety Powwow in 2003.

Maine has become the first state in the union to ban the use of Native American caricatures as mascots in public schools, which many say amount to a racist mockery of America’s first peoples, in what indigenous rights advocates hail as a sign of a growing national movement. Although legal experts believe that the ban is constitutionally sound, citing recent precedent, some disagree over whether bans are in the spirit of the First Amendment and the best means of blocking offensive depictions of Native Americans.

Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a bill this month barring the state’s public schools “from having or adopting 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.”

Mills framed the law as a way to avoid the unintentional denigration of Native American peoples. “While Indian mascots were often originally chosen to recognize and honor a school’s unique connection to Native American communities in Maine, we have heard clearly and unequivocally from Maine tribes that they are a source of pain and anguish,” Mills said in an official press statement. “Our people, communities, and understanding and respect for one another are Maine’s source of pride and it is time our symbols reflect that.”

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