SKOWHEGAN — A local business that’s owned by a member of the district school board is drawing sharp criticism for a post on social media about selling “Indian Outlaw” T-shirts and hoodies to celebrate the start of high school football this week.
The Monday morning post on Facebook from Maine Fire Equipment Co. comes even after the school board voted earlier this year to “respectfully retire” the controversial Indians sports team mascot from Skowhegan Area High School. In addition, a new state law prohibits public schools from using Native American imagery as mascots or nicknames.
Todd Smith, who is also a school board member of Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54 and voted against retiring the “Indians” nickname, is the owner of Maine Fire Equipment Co. and has been producing apparel for local sports teams for about a decade.
The company’s Facebook page, with accompanying images of clothing with “Indian” logos, stated Monday morning, “To celebrate this week’s football home opener and being this weeks radio game sponsor we have some great team spirit items on sale this week. Skowhegan Football (designed by a SAHS student) tees & hoodies and the very popular Indian Outlaw tees and hoodies. Tee shirts are only $9.75, crew neck sweatshirts are only $20 and hoodies are only $25. Sale valid for in stock and special orders. This week only. Extra sizes are regular price.”
Skowhegan has not yet selected a new logo or nickname, but has since erased the imagery from its gymnasium and signs. Its orange and black sports uniforms already only said “Skowhegan.”
Reaction to the Facebook post has included sharp criticism, such as a Facebook post from Maulian Dana, the Penobscot Nation ambassador who was a vocal opponent of the schools’ nickname.
“Now that we have changed the Indian mascot and banned all Indian mascots in Maine it’s to be expected that there will be those resistant to the change and hungry to keep the white supremacy and racism alive,” Dana wrote. “The thing that makes this especially problematic is that this is a board member making money off the racism. We have taken away the validation from the institution now we work on shifting the culture. It will come in time. Patience, education, communication, and calling it out when we see it.”
But Smith, in an interview Tuesday morning, said his business is just continuing the service it has offered and is responding to requests for the apparel ahead of the Skowhegan football home-opener game, which is Friday at 7 p.m. against Cony High School.
“We sell a lot of school spirit items and Skowhegan is one item, so in light of the upcoming home-opener we put some stuff on sale,” Smith said in the interview. “We just sell what people want. Everybody has a right to their opinion and I’m not going to say I agree or disagree, but we’ve had customers come in and ask for specific items and that’s what we produce.”
Even so, Smith conceded that demand for “Indian” apparel is quickly “dying” in the aftermath of the school vote.
“I can say there are a handful of people in the community that still may want Skowhegan Indian apparel and that number is becoming smaller every day,” Smith said. “I have as much right to promote and sell my product as much as someone has to buy it. But moving forward, the market will dictate. When the demand dies, we’re not going to do this. And it is dying, I’ll be honest. If the mascot changes, when something new comes along, we’ll start producing it.”
Smith said his business, which produces fire safety-related equipment and accessories, began making apparel, decorations and other items for local schools as an add-on to its business offerings because they had the equipment already to produce it. They don’t have much apparel inventory on hand, but rather produce it in response to requests from customers, he said.
He said he feels unfairly targeted on social media by people who don’t know him or his business, noting that his company has produced the apparel for years before the community began debating the “Indians” nickname.
Smith said that while the business did have an “internal debate” about continuing to produce the Indians apparel, he isn’t second-guessing the decision and sees it as strictly a business decision. “A lot of the stuff we sell is through the social media aspect; a lot of the customers we have are repeat customers,” he said.
Attempts to reach Superintendent Brent Colbry and School Board Chair Lynda Quinn on Sept. 10 were not successful.