Of all the groups who came after me as a teacher, it was Indians who hit hardest in terms of sheer numbers. It all started with a column I’d written ten years ago on what was called the “casino referendum” in Maine. Some of the tribes here wanted to build a casino and, unlike tribes in other states, they needed Maine state government to approve it. My column didn’t expressly involve my teaching or schools, but one of the local newspapers in which it appeared ran a little blurb at the bottom mentioned that I was a teacher.
Political ads urging Mainers to vote against it used arguments about gambling attracting the seedier elements to our state like prostitution and other criminal activity, and that casinos didn’t fit with Maine’s image of a bucolic, outdoor vacationland and might therefore threaten tourism, which was our number one industry. I went at it from a different angle in my column, reflecting on why Indians were able to open a gambling facility that would be illegal for anyone else. I questioned whether white guilt about Europeans “stealing their land” was a factor and made the argument that various Indian tribes had been stealing each other’s land for millennia before Europeans arrived. What really set them off most, however, was when I pointed out that Indians were fully as savage to one another as Europeans ever were to them after Columbus arrived. That I used the word “savage” in the context of Indian history really put them on the warpath leading to little Fryeburg, Maine.
The first indication of their attack was hundreds of emails in my inbox one morning from all over the country – including Alaska and Hawaii. I didn’t have time to read more than a dozen – all of them vitriolic – before I had to leave for school. Picking up the Conway Daily Sun on the way, I noticed some were published in there too as letters to the editor, again from all over the country. Halfway through my morning classes, I looked up to see the superintendent outside my classroom door. That was unusual as his office was a mile down the street and I was usually summoned there if he needed to see me. I said, “Excuse me, class,” and stepped into the hallway.
“You’ve stirred things up again,” he said with a sly smile.
“Indians? I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “I’ve gotten lots of angry emails from just about everywhere.” Later he told me they totaled over a hundred and that the school board also got some.
This superintendent was not easily rattled and I’d grown to like him. I had no idea at the time what his politics were, but he seemed more amused than disturbed by the protests. He had read the casino column and he knew by both its content and by the tone of the protesting emails that there wasn’t much substance to the attacks. He was also an attorney and had explained to several previous complainants about various issues that my status as a teacher didn’t abrogate my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech or of the press.
Still later that morning, my building principal told he’d gotten a call from an Attorney consulting with the Maine Department of Education Certification in Augusta who had also been swamped with approximately fifty emails, many accusing me of racism. She had questioned the principal about me and he told her I was an excellent teacher who didn’t use his classroom as a forum for my personal political beliefs. “She’s going to be contacting you herself,” he said, which she did a day or two later. She sent me an email instructing me to send her a copy of my column. After a few days I emailed back back describing where she could find the column online. Then she called me inquiring about several things, including whether I’d instructed students with the material in the column. I told her we hadn’t discussed the casino referendum in class. She seemed to be looking for a reason to put the Indians off and avoid becoming involved in the kerfuffle. After a while I asked for a copy of whatever report she was making to the then Maine Commissioner of Education and she said that unless she heard anything untoward from my superintendent, the matter would be closed.
Indians continued to contact me, however, some challenging me to debate on a radio talk show somewhere in upper New York State. I agreed to appear but they never followed up with specific arrangements. Other Indians called me a “wasichu” and I had to look that up. It’s a Sioux word meaning “one who takes the fat.” It’s a derogatory term for white people and can also mean “evil spirit.” There was one telephoned death threat which I reported to the Maine State Police. After about ten days, however, they all seemed to have forgotten me. Their coordinated attack had been fierce but short-lived, the only result being I was entered into Indian annals as one of those palefaces who have spoken or written critically of them over the centuries.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a (now retired) history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam.