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Native American Mascots

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Autor:  anton  03 March 2011
Tags:  Native,  American,  Mascots
Words: 2530   |   Pages: 11
Views: 594

Austin Chambers

Unity and Diversity

Term Paper

Native American Mascot use

Native Americans have been on this land for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Their way of life is very different from the socially accepted way of the Europeans. The traditional symbols of their people and the ceremonial dress that they wore are considered sacred. Many different college universities, professional sports teams and public businesses use these sacred symbols, images and traditional dress as a logo or mascot for their team or business.

As our country grows larger and more diverse, there is much popular debate from both Native Indians and Non-Indians about the use of these logos and symbols, and its moral appropriateness in today’s society. There are some that feel those who use of these symbols “are complacent with and supportive of the actions of our nation’s predecessors who engaged in what amounts to genocide and theft on an epic scale” ( Wisniewski, 2005 ) and there are others who feel that the use of these logos and symbols “honor American Indian history and values” (Wegner, 2005 ).

The only way to discuss this topic fairly is to look at both sides of the debate and evaluate for yourself the validity of points made for and against the use of these logos and symbols. In order to do this I am going to break this paper into two parts. Part 1 will be entirely against the use of Native American symbols in this way and part two will be entirely for the continued use of the Symbols.

Part I

Native Americans are raised with a set of values that are different from the values instilled in Caucasians. They are taught to respect nature and preserve its natural beauty. They are also taught to respect certain figures of their community that have obtained a status of great honor and responsibility. The figure I am referring to is the chief of the tribe. The chief can be spotted easily by the traditional dress, usually consisting of fine quality buckskin, decorated with buffalo horns and an eagle feather headdress. Young children are taught to respect this dress and respect the eagle feather because eagles are thought to be the messenger between earth and the creator. An eagle feather is presented to someone by the other members of the tribe if they feel that individual has earned the feather by his actions. The more feathers in a chief’s headdress, the more respect the tribe has for him.

The University of Illinois currently call themselves the fighting Illini and are represented by their mascot Chief Illiniwek. The mascot wears the traditional clothing of a chief and has an eagle feather headdress that goes almost to the ground. As I mentioned before, these feathers are viewed as an honor to posses and there are many Native Americans that feel this mascot should not be wearing these things, merely as a costume, for the sole purpose of halftime entertainment. This is viewed as a slap in the face to many, and is very disrespectful to those who understand the values that are being demoralized.

The plea of the Native Americans if finally being heard publicly and many things are happening to prohibit the use of these mascots. The NCAA said last year that some mascots modeled after Native Americans were “hostile and abusive” (King, 2005) and that it would prohibit the use of some in NCAA championships. In the college basketball’s final four tournament last April, Chief Illiniwek was a no show when Illinois made their appearance. Many feel that this was a positive step and hope to see more progress in the future.

In New Hampshire, along with many other states, the National Education Association voted to discourage the use of Native American symbols and Mascots and in August of 2002, following that vote, the state Board of Education endorsed eliminating their use. The rulings however were “non-binding, meaning the decision is in the hands of each individual school” (Poletta, 2006).

Another reason that many Native Americans are against the use of Indian mascots is because many schools play so-called “Indian fight songs” and have a cartoon character-like costume. Along with these inauthentic costumes, hand gestures like the “tomahawk chop” and items like foam tomahawks and had drums are being carried by the fans that attend these games. This is disrespectful to them as well. Some view any and all “inauthentic representations of American Indian cultures as forms of cultural violence” (Pewewardy, 2004, P 183).

We all know that racism still exists in today’s society, despite our best efforts to believe otherwise. This is evident in the stereotyping of Native Americans. Florida State University is home of the Seminoles. Their mascot, and school for that matter, help perpetuate these stereotypes by using drum beating, war-whooping and symbolic scalping as part of the celebration rituals displayed by the mascot at halftime and on the sidelines. The band also partakes in this during the game. The “Indians” being portrayed here exist on in the imagination and in Hollywood. Nothing about it is historically true.

Racial awareness is something that is developed at a very early age. Some children can develop this awareness as early as three or four years. When an image such as Florida State’s Seminole mascot is seen, an unspoken stereotype is developed in the mind of the child who witnesses it. In non-Indian children this can lead to them growing up, and without knowing or intentionally meaning to do so, discriminating against Native Americans. When young Native American children see this they tend to grow into adults who feel inferior to other people and have a lowered since of self-worth old (Pewewardy, 2004, P 183).

Racial Equality would be the final reason I have found to stop the use of Native Americans mascots. The number of Native Americans is far less than any other minority group we have in this country and that may be why things are not equal for them. When African Americans wanted to have the same rights as whites, there were enough of them voicing their opinion, the changes were made and conditions for them got better. Native Americans lack the ability to be heard as quickly because of their smaller numbers. The million-man march that was possible for the blacks would be more like a thousand man march for the Indians respectively.

Today the racial treatment of African Americans is a very tender subject. Words are chosen carefully when referring to them. Efforts are made to insure they feel racially equal to whites. There are government programs like the NAACP that help African Americans attend major universities and colleges across the nation that they would otherwise be discriminated form attending. Why is the same not done for Native Indians? Are they not in need of our help? Why is the public stereotyping of these people allowed? Would the country be ok with professional baseball team being called the Negro’s? Their fight song could be “swing low, sweet chariot” and their mascot could be a giant cotton ball. Would this be socially acceptable? Then why allow Florida State to have a Seminole mascot that screams inauthentic war chants and performs scalping gestures. There comes a time when we must become a unified nation and say enough is enough, and that time is now.

Part II

There are those who would have you believe that Indian mascots are disrespectful, harmful, and completely unapproved by the Indian descendents. The truth is this is not the case. There are many Native Americans who feel this is an honor to their people, and support the continued use. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the actual definition of a mascot is “a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure especially to bring them good luck” (, 2006). That’s interesting, I thought it was a great disrespect and the main argument was that Indians are people, not mascots. According to the definition, mascots are people. Oh wait, I know what it is, the dictionary is wrong. The definition, according to supports of the mascot ban reads, A person, animal or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure to bring them good luck, as long as that figure in no way resembles a Native person.

The two most debated schools when it comes to the mascot debate would be Florida State University and the University of Illinois. First, let us look at the “Fighting Illini” debate. To understand why the University of Illinois has an Indian chief as a mascot, you need to look at how this happened. When Lewis and Clark first crossed Illinois, the native life was on the decline. Inter-tribal war, particularly with the Iroquois tribe, had claimed the life of many native Illiniwek Indians. At this time, they were not called the Illiniwek however. They were the Inoca tribe; also know as the Ininiwek tribe. Through translation, the spelling of the name was changed to Illiniwek.

In 1926, head football coach, Bob Zupke spoke to his players about the Illiniwek tribe, men in particular, and explained what it meant to be a true Indian man. He explained that in order to be a full man you must have the strong, agile human body, the unfettered human intellect and the indomitable human spirit. These traits evolved in the creation of a mascot to honor such things and be the ongoing presence of these values for every graduating class of Illini to remember.

Through the years, the debated about removing chief Illiniwek has actually been good for the university. In today’s society, laughter is a way to break the ice in an uncomfortable situation. Characters are made of most mascots to create a laugh and attempt to ease the perception of them. This is not the case with Chief Illiniwek. The scrutiny of the chief has insured the mascot be as authentic as possible. The chiefs purpose is not the break the ice, it is to insure a great people are remembered as exactly that, a great people. Many different efforts have been made along with minor adjustments to the costume to insure a truly authentic representation.

The dance that is performed at halftime is a collection of different moves and steps form many different tribes because there are no remaining Illiniwek alive today to show us the true dance. Chief Illiniwek eternalizes a people who would be all but lost to a few scattered history books, buried on a library shelf. This is hardly the way to recognize and honor the greatness that was once Illinois.

The second most debated school is Florida State University. Florida State calls themselves the Seminoles and represents the Seminole tribe of Florida. The true Seminole people are alive and well in Florida. They hold a tribal council every month and only native Seminoles are allowed to attend unless otherwise invited. In these council meetings, topics important to there continued survival is discussed. The University of Florida State has a long and wonderful relationship with the tribe and the University President T. K. Wetherell was the first president in university history to be invited to attend a meeting of the Seminole tribe of Florida’s tribal council. Wetherell said in regards to the mascot debate about Indian mascots being banned from use by the NCAA:

“The message I received was clear…As the tribe’s storied history shows, the Florida Seminoles are an unconquered, sovereign and independent people. Florda State is exercising its own independent spirit in suggesting that the NCAA accept an early recommendation of its own committee and leave these decisions to each university” (2005)

Along with the statement made to the NCAA by University President Wetherell, The Seminole people wanted to make sure there opinions on the matter were heard and created a resolution in tribal council that reads, in part:

The “Seminole tribe of Florida has an established relationship with Florida State University, which includes it permission to use the name ‘Seminole’ as well as various Seminole symbols and images, such as Chief Osceola, for educational purposes and the Seminole tribe wishes to go on record that it has not opposed, and, in fact, supports the continued use of the name ‘Seminole’. This resolution also supports the use of the Seminole head logo, which is endorsed by the University.”

The NCAA is trying to convince everyone that all Indians are offended by the continued use of mascots but as we see in Florida State, this is not the case. Society today has gotten to soft. Many Taboo subjects that are not discussed have great importants. When is enough going to be enough? What is next? I am sure its not going to be long before PETA comes by and says that the animals are offended by their character being used as a mascot and want everyone to rename them. This means no more Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my. Then I am sure the University of Notre Dame has to change there name because the fighting Irish is extremely politically incorrect. Oh, I almost forgot, we have to change the Giants as well. We do not have a team called the midgets so we cannot have the giants. Bottom line is there is too much government control on how things work. The NCAA need to evaluate each case individually and let the University itself decide what is best for the future of the school.

• King, Richard C. (2005, October 2) “It’s a White man’s game: Racism, Native American Mascots, and the NCAA”, Collegesports, P 1-4

• Silverman, Valerie. (2001, November 14) “Students share opinions on Indian mascot,” The Dartmouth, B1

• Wieberg, Steve. (2005, March 15) “Mascots create divisiveness on some campuses,” USA Today, C1, C3

• Wieiewski, Jon. (2005, November 21) “The harms of categorization,” The Dartmouth, D1, D4

• Poletta, Barbara. (2006, February 20) “Mascot debate,” Seacoastonline,

• Chief Illiniwek Educational Foundation. (2004, October)

• Killackey, Brent. (2004, September 23) “Debatable— Are American Indian mascots appropriate for sports teams?” Journal Times,

• Milloy, Courtland. (2005, November 21) “Pride to one is prejudice to another” The Washington Post, B01

• Wegner, Jonathan “Honor or Insult” Omaha World Herald

• Pewewardy, Cornel D. (2004, May/June) “Playing Indian at Halftime” The Clearing House PP. 180-185

• Brewer, John, & Harter, Kevin. (2006, January 15) “Indian mascots back in debate” St. Paul Pioneer Press

• Everything FSU. (2005, June 17) “Florida State University thanks Seminoles for historic vote of support”

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