I am deeply saddened by the Skowhegan-area school board’s decision against changing its high school mascot.

I am a Penobscot Indian. My great grandparents were both born on Indian Island outside of Old Town, and I am proud of my heritage. I make this point because I believe Native blood gives me a certain authority in discussing this situation.

Some have chosen to argue that giving high schools Indian mascots should be a way to honor my people, and that they should not be taken as offensive. But this argument is erroneous at best and patronizing at worst.

We are perfectly capable of deciding how these names make us feel. The suggestion that these names and mascots honor us is neither a welcomed piece of input nor is it relevant. For example, I could call someone who continues to express this opinion “a buffoon,” and then assure this person that when I am saying it, it is meant as an honor.

What is getting lost here are the reasons why we find these names offensive. These names encourage the perpetuation of native stereotypes.

One would find it mighty hard to find a “braves,” “warriors,” “Indians,” “redskins,” “red raiders,” “chiefs,” “chieftains” or any other offensive native team name that doesn’t incorporate red as a team color. These names give permission for high schools to have red-faced cartoons with big noses and feathers in their heads as logos. They encourage their fans to wear headdresses and war paint and slap their hand on an open mouth while screaming like a savage. They make a mockery of my culture and misrepresent who we are as a people. They are more than dehumanizing. They are demoralizing to our youth. Worst of all, they are completely in line with the tragic and storied past of this country’s mistreatment of Indians.

That is what most people don’t understand. Centuries of genocide and forced assimilation and incarceration by reservation coupled with John Wayne films and “Bugs Bunny” cartoons have kept our rich and diverse cultures lost and hidden from this world. We want to bring them back and be identified by who we are, not by what Hollywood has made everyone think we are.

The last thing that really bothers me is that, when it comes to controversial debate, it seems to me that we dig in rather than listen to the other side.

I have sympathy for those who are screaming against us being too politically correct as a society. I think humor and humility are important, and I think natives could learn to do better to embrace humor as a method of therapy, as we all could. But this debate is not about that.

What I don’t understand is how 11 school board members can make the decision to keep the “Indians” name based on anything other than some sort of stance of defiance. At least half the room was telling them they are offended by the name. Yet, they ignore them.

Meanwhile, what do these school board members get out of it? Tradition?

I guess, but they are also going to get a controversy that isn’t going to go away simply because the vote has happened. The controversy is still going to follow this school — and will always — until the name is changed. This board is supposed to put the students before everything, but the school board members aren’t the ones who are going to have to face the protesters or the screaming opposing fans whenever they play a game somewhere else in the state.

So what did these kids really get from this outcome? Some lesson in sticking to your principles? Or is it the honor of wearing an anachronistic term across their jersey?

Just change the name already.

Johnny Gagnon Jr. lives in Portland.