The Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce canceled a "Hunt for the Indian" event and will stop selling wooden Native American figurines. Credit: Courtesy Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce

The Skowhegan Area Chamber of Commerce apologized for scheduling a “Hunt for the Indian” holiday event for local businesses that was met with public outcry.

The chamber planned to hide a Native American figurine inside a local business and post clues about its whereabouts on its Facebook page, according to the original social media announcement, which has since been removed.

The first person to find the figurine would have receive 5 to 20 percent off a purchase at that business.

“Never were we so wrong in thinking that this latest promotion involving the chamber’s Skowhegan Indian statue would be a good idea. This event has been canceled,” the chamber posted to its Facebook page Sunday, Nov. 5.

“It was never our intention to offend anyone, quite the opposite. It was our goal to honor our community icon, support local business and engage the people of greater Skowhegan,” the post read. “No apology can take away our lack of empathy and foresight in this decision. And, for that we are truly sorry.

“Now we understand we’ve created a bigger problem of not seeing our actions from others’ perspectives, given the local and national issues around mascots and racism.”

In addition to organizing and hosting a community event to talk about the issue, chamber Executive Director Jason Gayne said the chamber also will stop selling miniature figurines and Christmas ornaments modeled after the town’s tall Native American sculpture.

Gayne said the business promotion idea was “definitely not malicious” but instead was meant to “honor the [town’s] heritage.”

Tastefully preserving Native American history has been a struggle for the town, which was the site of the 1724 Norridgewock Abenaki massacre by white settlers.

In 2015, the Skowhegan Area High School’s baseball coach was criticized for posting a picture to Facebook of a “scalp towel.” Last year, the School Administrative District 54 voted to keep the Indian as the school district’s mascot, despite opposition from many of Maine’s tribes.

Maulian Dana, resident of and ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, said she “isn’t really surprised” by the chamber’s “Hunt for the Indian” idea.

“There’s an underlying tension there all the time,” she said. And the town is split between those who want to change much of the Native American iconography and those who “say it’s an honorable thing but treat actual indigenous people very poorly,” Dana said.

Dana, who led the “Not Your Mascot” group that fought to change the high school’s mascot, called the chamber’s event “very blatant and in your face and in poor taste.”

But she did commend the chamber for canceling the event so swiftly and for suggesting to host community meetings to further foster dialogue on the issue.

“As ugly and offensive” as the chamber’s idea was, she said, “I think it could be a really good trigger for some change.”

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