Maulian Dana, a tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation, spoke to a crowded room on Nov. 14 about the challenges Native Americans face in the United States. Dana discussed the growing trend of the change of the naming of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day nationwide.
Since she was a teenager, Dana has worked to break down unhealthy stereotypes about Native Americans and change portrayals of native communities in her community and beyond.
At the event, Dana spoke about how she struggled as a child with the way she saw her people portrayed. The way non-natives expressed her people’s dress and rituals incorrectly portrayed the reality and beauty of the culture, Dana said.
There are sacred and religious meanings to the rituals and dress Native Americans use. Seeing people outside her culture appropriate and misinterpret her people’s ancient beliefs by using them as sport mascots disturbed Dana.
“The thing that mascots do is they kind of make us this mythical part of history and it doesn’t allow us to be actual human beings,” Dana said. “It really dehumanizes us to such an extent that it keeps us in this glass case of history. And the thing is that we’re still here and that’s what’s frustrating when people say these mascots keep your history alive because we’re breathing, living people that contribute to modern society.”
The American Psychological Association has conducted research on the psychological effects that Native American sports team mascots can produce on student bodies.
In a 2005 resolution, the association revealed that it found that the phenomenon undermines all students’ educational experiences, establishes a hostile learning environment for native students and perpetuates false stereotypes about Native American cultures.
“I see it as spokes in the wheel,” Dana said. “We’re all living with this intergenerational trauma because of years of different tactics of genocide and a lot of people were stripped of their healthy normal coping skills, culture and identity. So, they’re turning to these destructive things, starting cycles that trickle down through families. When you’re not seen as equal people, when you’re not seen as visible and you’re screaming for it that’s going to cause a lot of issues.”
Matthew Miller is a fourth-year political science student and member of the College Republicans who attended the event.
Miller said that, initially, he didn’t see Native American mascots or Columbus Day as an issue.
But when he heard Dana talk about how these depictions of her people affected her personally and the impact they have on her culture, he started to understand why some native people see it as insensitive.
“I actually felt like I was a little swayed when it came to the mascot issue,” Miller said. “That was something I always kind of shrugged off like either it wasn’t that important or I didn’t really care about it … The way she was talking about it today, I can see where they’re coming from with that, not wanting to be mocked as a people and I’m trying to put myself in their shoes as much as I can.”
Dana graduated from UMaine with a degree in political science in 2006. Since then, she has worked hard to remove most of Maine’s high school mascots that contain exaggerated or inaccurate depictions of Native Americans.
In 2015, Dana was a representative in School Administration District 54 when it was considering changing the Skowhegan High School mascot from an “Indian.” Dana is also a founding member of the Maine Chapter of Notyourmascot, a group dedicated to the removal of racist Indian mascots that fought for the Skowhegan High School change, according to its Facebook page.
“I’m always happy to do outreach [at UMaine] and education and advocacy. I did go to school here and the [Native American] community’s really close together with the university. I think the more we understand each other and our struggles and similarities I think the better we all are for it,” Dana said.