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My town of Skowhegan, Maine considers removal of “Indian” as the team name

I chose to stay silent on the “Indian Question” in my community for a host of reasons, explicitly relating to my own white privilege. But I called it something else. Or many something elses: it’s not my issue; my kids didn’t go to school here. It’s not my issue; I didn’t grow up here. It’s not my issue; I am not an indigenous person. I hate to do public speaking. I don’t want to make people feel bad. Other things are a priority. Yes, changing the name Indian is a good idea, but not my fight.

Do you see that there? I get to choose the very times and terms that I engage in discussions about race that make me uncomfortable. That is white privilege. I have the very dearest of friends- friends whom I call when it gets real around here, who share their Christmas table with me, who feel another way about this issue. What I say here now is a love letter to them and my town, Skowhegan, Maine. When the hubbub is over, we will still need to be neighbors and friends, so getting this right is pretty important.

I changed my mind about using my voice. I’m here saying this now because I’ve come to understand that using the name Indian is a values-based question, and that belongs to the whole community. And I want to express my values in public, so that young people in my community will know how I feel, and that I want to be a good ancestor.

I learned that there is a phrase: intent vs. impact. What I meant to say, and how it landed on someone else. If I give my diabetic friend some delicious cookies I baked, and they say to me, I cannot accept this gift, and I then say, yes, but I made them specially to honor you. I would never do anything to hurt you. I’m a very good person. And then my friend says to me: It’s not a gift. I do not accept these. Even if we are in a relationship where our mutual respect and love is so strong that they forgive me my mistake. Still not a gift.

I also learned another phrase: Truth and Reconciliation. It involves a lot of things, but for me, in this context, it means listening without judgement or defense. Without trying to change it. I am practicing asking open and honest questions until I get to a place where I see my story in their story. Questions like: what are we trying to protect? What will be lost? What’s going on inside me while I listen to you? What’s the next right thing? What do I desire from this interaction? What feels like healing? And of course, my favorite:  What else is possible?

I live in a house on the Kennebec River on land that once belonged to, I think, the Norridgewock Band of the Wabanaki Federation, and I have no intention of giving that up, so I still benefit from the exploitation of long ago. I am imperfect every day, but I like to think of myself as a Settler and not a colonizer.  I believe we should begin the change toward a true, healthy relationship with our indigenous neighbors. This is way beyond a name change or a school district. I want to be in on that work of reconciliation. Please ask a bigger question than merely the name change, and keep asking. I will too.

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