Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed the bill into law on Thursday after it passed unanimously in the state’s Legislature. It will become effective 90 days after the legislative body adjourns.
L.D. 944, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Benjamin Collings, prohibits all Maine public schools from 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.”
Native American tribes in Maine have stated “clearly and unequivocally” that the mascots have been “a source of pain and anguish,” Mills said in a statement.
“A mascot is a symbol of pride, but it is not the source of pride,” Mills said. “Our people, communities, and understanding and respect for one another are Maine’s source of pride and it is time our symbols reflect that.”
A 2005 study by the American Psychological Association called for the immediate retirement of all Native American symbols by schools and organizations, finding their use “harmful” and “inaccurate.”
“The symbols, images and mascots teach non-Indian children that it’s acceptable to participate in culturally abusive behavior and perpetuate inaccurate misconceptions about American Indian culture,” according to the study.
Rep. Rena Newell, a non-voting tribal member of the Maine House of Representatives representing the Passamaquoddy Tribe, praised the legislation for “promoting cultural diversity and awareness.”
“Today and [from] now on, it is our collective responsibility to the next generations to promote each other as equals, as individuals, and most importantly as neighbors,” Newell said in a statement.
Maine last month joined a growing number of states replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Christopher Columbus is often credited with “discovering” America, despite the vast number of indigenous communities already inhabiting the land.
Indian tribes and their allies have said Columbus Day overlooks the violent history of colonization in North America.