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Copyright 2017 Sun Journal Oct 16, 2017
Sun Journal (Lewiston, Maine)
The mother of a Mi'kmaq Indian who plays football for Lisbon High School alleges that fans and players mocked Native Americans with offensive stereotypes throughout Friday's game at Wells High School.
Wells fans — both students and adults — were "running around with hands over their mouths," making whooping sounds, and banging on drums and five-gallon buckets with offensive chants, said Amelia Tuplin, whose 16-year-old son Lucas Francis, is Lisbon's quarterback.
Wells' mascot name is "Warriors" and the logo has a single feather attached to a block W. In the past, the school used more blatant representation of Native Americans as a logo.
"When I went down to Wells, I didn't find the logo distasteful, it's how they represented it," Tuplin said. "They just made a mockery of my culture and my heritage."
Tuplin and Francis are full-blooded Mi'kmaq, originally from Canada, and have lived in Lisbon for 13 years. She said in a strongly worded letter sent to Jim Daly, superintendent of schools for Wells-Ogunquit Community School District, that many of the fans' actions Friday crossed the line of decency.
"Your team, students and spectators mocked our families' heritage, including my son, quarterback Lucas Francis, by painting their faces, banging on fake drums that included 5-gallon buckets, singing mock chants, performing mock dances, and continuously making hand-over-mouth sounds," Tuplin wrote in the letter. "It was the most ultimate display of racism on the largest scale I've ever seen."
Daly said he takes this letter, and the issue at hand, very seriously, and he plans to investigate the matter fully.
"Allegations were made toward the Wells community and fan base," Daly said. "That's a lot of people. It's going to be a very thoughtful and prudent investigation. There's no quick answer to this. We want to make sure we're doing due diligence and taking time."
Tuplin also wrote that while she was appalled at Friday's display, on the whole, not all mascots depicting "Indians" or "warriors" are offensive.
But, "this is not the case for Wells High School," she wrote. "You made a mockery of my culture. Your chants, fake drums, war paint, dance and hand-over-mouth sounds were embarrassing to watch and hurtful."
Daly said that changing the district's mascot is a bigger issue, and one that must be dealt with on a broader level.
"That's greater than just an AD or a superintendent," Daly said. "That's something that needs to be brought up at the board level, at the community level."
Wells and Lisbon were both unbeaten going into Friday's contest, and Wells pulled away in the second half for a decisive win. Afterward, Tuplin said, the chanting continued.
"After the game, I witnessed a celebratory Native mock dance and mock chant by the Wells football team," she wrote. "I escorted my son from the field to the school only to be taunted by people making hand-over-mouth sounds."
That, Lisbon Superintendent Richard Green, is the biggest immediate concern.
"Looking at the allegations on social media, if there was slander or if there were threats to either a player or a parent, that's the first priority," Green said. "I've responded to Amelia, and I'm waiting now to discuss it with her further."
Wells is one of four schools in Maine to still use "Warriors" as a mascot — Nokomis of Newport, Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook and Fort Kent are the others, though Fort Kent's warrior mascot has been changed to a Spartan-style combatant.
Skowhegan High School has come under fire for use of the nickname Indians. In 2015, its school board decided to keep the nickname after public forums with the four tribes of the Wabanaki confederation and residents who support and oppose changing the name.
Wells is known as a town that exuberantly supports its high school athletic teams, particularly its football program.
Daly said it is common for students to bang drums at football games.
"Banging on five-gallon drums, yes," he said. "Is it racial? I do not believe so, but we are in middle of investigating that."
"I think the banging on the drums and stuff just shows spirit we have for our school because we're honoring them," said Jade Petrie, a senior at Wells High.
"I just feel like it's the culture of high school football and something that comes along with football," said Delaney O'Brien, a Wells junior. "I don't associate it with Native Americans."
But even portrayals of Indians perceived as positive still have a negative impact, said Jordan LaBouff, an assistant professor of psychology and honors at the University of Maine.
LaBouff said several studies have shown that Native American students perform worse academically and imagine fewer future possibilities for themselves in schools that use Native American imagery.
"I don't think anyone in that community is explicitly trying to harm but the fact is, they are, and the data demonstrates that," LaBouff said.
Tuplin said she initially felt the fans' behavior and mock chants were targeted specifically toward her son, the only Native American on the Lisbon team. She expressed those feelings on her Twitter account late Friday evening.
Over the weekend, Tuplin said she's been told that what she witnessed Friday is typical at a Wells football game. She now believes her son was not specifically targeted for abuse "which made it worse, made it hurt more," because it showed a disregard toward Native American culture.
"If you do this all the time, if that's the response I'm going to get from somebody, then we have a bigger issue," Tuplin said. "If you're allowing this to happen and instilling these values, if this is how you're teaching your students how Indians act and behave, (that is) instilling racism in your kids for a long time."
Daly acknowledged that Wells' use of the Warrior mascot will also be addressed.
"The first issue is there were allegations of inappropriate behavior and the second issue is the mascot and that is an issue that will be brought to the school committee and the community," Daly said. "Those two issues are very different in the way we deal with them."
Wells senior Megan Schneider thinks it is time for the Native American imagery to be removed from the Wells High logo.
"The name is OK, that we go by Warriors," said Schneider, a three-sport athlete. "That's like we're hard fighters. But I think it's not hard to just get rid of that mascot because that's not needed. That is just exploitation. The mascot part is just unnecessary.
"We don't have black people's heads as a mascot. Should we have the Indian head as our mascot?"
Tuplin emphasized that Wells' students aren't to blame.
"I hold the superintendent accountable for all of this," she said.
Daly said he wants to have a dialog with Tuplin.
"I'll definitely reach out," he said. "I plan on emailing her and inviting her to have an open discussion about what happened, and how we can all move forward from this."
Lisbon Superintendent Richard Green said he made sure Wells' school officials were aware of Tuplin's complaint.
"I don't believe (Tuplin) is overreacting," Green said. "She's upset and she's going through the process and making people aware and I think that's what people do nowadays."
Lisbon's middle school, Sugg, once had an Indian mascot, as well. That was changed "16 or 17 years ago," Green said. "We became the Huskies, and then all of our schools eventually adopted the 'Greyhounds' mascot."
The Lisbon town seal also bears the likeness of a Native American leader.
"It's an unfortunate situation," Green said. "We've reached out to their AD and their superintendent, and we hope this can all be resolved soon."
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