Fighting Indians situates the debate over team mascots within the historical context of the indigenous subjugation in the United States going back to Columbus. In doing so, it offers a potent snapshot of the state of public discourse in post-Trump America.
On May 16, 2019, the state of Maine made history by passing LD 944 An Act to Ban Native American Mascots in All Public Schools, the first legislation of its kind in the country. For Maine's tribal nations, the landmark legislation marked an end to a decades long struggle to educate the public on the harms of Native American mascotry. Fighting Indians chronicles the last and most contentious holdout in that struggle, the homogeneously white Skowhegan High School, known for decades as "The Home of the Indians". This is the story of a small New England community forced to reckon with its identity, its sordid history, and its future relationship with their indigenous neighbors. The film serves as a microcosm for a host of national divisions, as the "mascot debate" exposes centuries old abuses while questioning whether reconciliation is possible.
Starting in 2015, Native representatives from tribes across Maine respectfully made their case to the Skowhegan school board about the negative impact of the "Indian" mascot. Hearing their case, the school board then suggested a public forum on the issue, which initiated a spiral into pure spectacle, particularly in virtual spaces. Countless advocates for the current mascot cite questionable heritage, local pride, and a zealous commitment to maintaining the status quo, even in the face of local Natives reiterating the racist harm the current mascot causes to both Native and non-Native people.
The film lays out the historical abuses that indigenous populations have suffered in North America from Christopher Columbus to the trail of tears to forced boarding school attendance to the present day. Fighting Indians also contextualizes the larger national debate over Natives as sports mascots by presenting the cases made against the NFL's Washington team and the MLB's Cleveland team. And in showcasing impassioned school board meetings and documenting the fight as it spills out into social media, the documentary encapsulates the tenor of contemporary political and cultural discourse. Emphasizing the local bloody history of Skowhegan, Fighting Indians highlights the generational pain that is continually reignited by this ongoing debate.
- Dave McKenna, Sports Journalist, Washington City Paper / Deadspin / Defector
- John Bear Mitchell, PhD, Penobscot Historian / UMaine's Wabanaki Center Outreach and Student Development Coordinator
- Jesse Steinfeldt, PhD, Associate Professor of Counseling and Educational Psychology, Indiana University Bloomington / Sports Psychologist
- Jeffrey P. Beck, PhD, Professor of English, Penn State
- Mike Wise, Sports Journalist, The New York Times / Washington Post / ESPN
- Dawn Neptune Adams, Penobscot Activist / Filmmaker
- Maulian Dana, Wabanaki Alliance President / Penobscot Nation Ambassador
- Barry Dana, Former Chief of Penobscot Nation
- Jame Eric Francis, Director of Cultural and Historic Preservation, Penobscot Nation
- Zach Heiden, Chief Consul, ACLU of Maine