Penobscot chief criticizes Wiscasset road name

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 10:30am

A letter from the chief of Penobscot Nation has so far failed to get Wiscasset selectmen to roll back their decision to name a private road “Redskin’s Drive.”

The letter from Chief Kirk Francis criticizes the Aug. 19 vote regarding the name of the road, which runs off Bradford Road.

Ashley Gagnon, one of the road’s residents, has said that the name means that someone who lives there was a Redskin when that was Wiscasset High School’s mascot. Gagnon said she has Native American ancestry and doesn’t consider the name offensive.

Francis’ letter describes the word “redskin” as extremely offensive. Its use negatively impacts the tribe and its families, according to the Sept. 4 letter.

“We understand that change is difficult and that people may feel nostalgic about certain aspects of their past, but we cannot quietly accept a sentimentality that hurts our people,” the letter reads. It asks selectmen to reflect on their decision and overturn it.

“It is not too late to make this sincere gesture and begin the journey toward deeper understanding and a mutually respectful relationship.”

The letter was not mentioned at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, the first since Francis wrote the letter. In interviews, Vice Chairman Ben Rines Jr., who made the motion on the road name, and member Bill Barnes, who seconded it, said they do not plan to revisit the vote.

“I don’t find (the name) offensive and I think a lot of other people don’t find it offensive,” Rines said.

Barnes said he would never do anything he thought was against Native Americans.

Board Chairman Pam Dunning said she was not aware of any plans to revisit the road decision. She cast the lone vote against the name last month. Selectman Tim Merry voted in favor of it; Selectman Jeff Slack abstained.

Merry had no immediate comment on Francis’ letter.

Reached Sept. 19, Gagnon’s boyfriend, Jeff Fortier, who owns a home on the road, said he didn’t think the name would still be an issue weeks after the vote. 

“I’m kind of surprised,” he said.

Everyone he has talked to in town since the board’s decision has not had a problem with it, he said.

Francis did not immediately return a message.