In this Jan. 15, 2019 photo, Skowhegan Area High School cheerleaders stand beneath a mural of the school's mascot on the wall of the gymnasium in Skowhegan, Maine. The last Maine high school to use an "Indian" nickname is retiring the mascot. (Michael G. Seamans/Portland Press Herald via AP) Credit: Michael G. Seamans | AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate voted Tuesday to ban the use of Native American names, imagery and mascots in public schools, putting the state on track to pass a bill to do so after a long local controversy over the Skowhegan “Indians” nickname.

The Democratic-led chamber voted 23-10 to back the bill from Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland; the bill initially passed the House of Representatives last week. It faces further action in both chambers. The administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has stopped short of backing the bill, but she wrote a letter in December urging Skowhegan to drop the name.

All Democrats present and four Republicans — Minority Leader Dana Dow of Waldoboro and Sens. Marianne Moore of Calais, David Woodsome of North Waterboro and Kim Rosen of Bucksport — voted for it on Tuesday.

The bill would bar public schools and higher education institutions from having names, symbols or images referring to Native Americans as a mascot, team nickname or logo. The push was led by the Penobscot Nation and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

It was motivated by Skowhegan Area High School, the last Maine school to retain Native American imagery as part of its nickname. After years of debate, the school board voted in March to get rid of it and has since turned back a bid from opponents of that move to hold a non-binding referendum on the issue.

Two alumni of the school voiced different sides of the issue Tuesday on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, voted for it citing the 1724 massacre of a band of Abenaki people who inhabited the Skowhegan area at the hands of British troops. Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, opposed it and called it a local control issue.

While the Mills administration has urged schools not to use Native American mascots and applauded the Skowhegan school board’s move to drop the mascot, the Maine Department of Education has said it supports the right of school boards to make these types of decisions.

At a news conference on climate change legislation on Tuesday, Mills didn’t answer a question on whether she would sign the bill, saying it was off topic.

BDN writer Alex Acquisto contributed to this report.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...