This is a repost of one of my old e-newsletters, known as David’s Mental Meanderings. I wrote this when the NCAA ramped up it’s campaign to force colleges and universities to get rid of Indian mascots. I republished it in February 2010 as the regents of the University of North Dakota were voting about abandoning the Fighting Sioux, even over the objection of the Sioux who were fighting this. After Bob Costas’ rant about the Washington Redskins, I thought it deserved to be dredged up again.
David’s Mental Meanderings
10th August 2005
The NCAA has decided that universities with mascots or nicknames derived from American Indian sources must change or cover up their nicknames to compete in NCAA tournaments because they are “hostile and abusive”. You would think that those bastions of woolly liberal thinking and political correctness would have already taken such measures on their own, but 18 universities have failed to do so and must be brought to heel. What a load of tosh.
I do not rely upon the 1/16 Cherokee blood on my paternal side as the basis for my credibility to speak on these matters. I’m sure lots of people have a great-great-grandparent who was an American Indian.
I am, after all, a former Honorary Member of the Texas Commission for Indian Affairs. I was appointed circa 1968 when my state senator was Governor for a Day. I’m not sure how long my appointment lasted, but the certificate adorned my bedroom wall while I was growing up.
Seriously, my connection with American Indians is a bit deeper. My maternal grandfather, was employed by the TCIA (renamed the Texas Indian Commission in 1975), as the business manager of the Alabama-Coushatta and the superintendent of the Tigua (pronounced tee’-wah) Indian reservations in Texas. My grandmother was so loved by the Tigua community in El Paso that many of them travelled 700 miles to her funeral and performed a special ceremony at her graveside. My grandfather then married a Tigua woman, adopted her son, and begat two further sons. Thus, I have an Indian step-grandmother with two half-Indian half-uncles younger than me. After my grandfather died, a street was named for him in El Paso in recognition of his contribution to the Tigua tribe.
Political correctness has completely blinded the NCAA. How do they figure that a mascot is demeaning or hostile? By it’s very nature, it is making a positive statement about the people represented. A school (at whatever level from elementary to university) has chosen that mascot to represent them and their pursuit of excellence in athletics. Sure the student in the silly rubber head may inject humour to the proceedings, but his role is not to bring the school or the school’s symbol into a object of derision.
No school says, “Hey, let’s pick out something that makes us look terrible.” I once thought the only exception would probably be the Sandcrab of my old high school. I have heard many people mock the “Fighting Sandcrabs” – and our prowess in most sports proved that we lived up to quality of our mascot. Then I discovered the University of California-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. Theirs is the oxymoronic web address GoSlugs.com. But we’ll leave the poor choice of animal mascots for another time.
No school says, “Let’s use our athletics programs as an excuse to pick out an ethnic group for abuse.” But for the NCAA, representations that might recognise qualities common to, or legendary of, particular ethnic groups is racism.
The NCAA doesn’t even care that American Indian groups have supported the use of these nicknames. A spokesman for the Saginaw Chippewa, reiterating their support for Central Michigan’s use of the Chippewa nickname, said the tribe does not accept an “arbitrary decision made from an outside source.”
The President of Florida State issued a statement saying, “Florida State University is stunned at the complete lack of appreciation for cultural diversity shown by the (NCAA). . . That the NCAA would now label our close bond with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as culturally ‘hostile and abusive’ is both outrageous and insulting. On June 17, the Tribal Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida spoke unequivocally of its support for (our) use of the Seminole name and related symbols… National surveys have shown in recent years that an overwhelming majority of Native Americans are not offended by the use of Native American names and symbols. In making its decision, the executive committee has been swayed by a strident minority of activists who claim to speak for all Native Americans. It is unconscionable that the Seminole Tribe of Florida has been ignored.”
When Charlotte Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion, was asked why Florida State was on the hit list in light of its agreement with the tribe, she pointed out that there are many other Seminole tribes that do not have that agreement. She has not done her homework. There is only one other Seminole tribe, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. That is a moot point, as Florida State are fairly obviously referring to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The NCAA also takes no notice that according to its website, “The University of Utah, in cooperation with the Ute Tribal Business Committee, is proud to share in the tradition of the Ute tribe through the ‘Utes’ nickname.” A tribal leader at the Unitah and Ouray Indian Reservation, home of the Northern Utes, echoed the Chippewas, “A non-Indian organization should not be the one to make the decision.”
Lest as 93.75% non-Indian, I fall into the error of the NCAA and presume to speak on their behalf, I contacted both the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushatta. I spoke to someone in the enrollment office of the former and reached the Public Information Office of the latter. In both instances, it really wasn’t an issue. Both agreed that if Indians are portrayed in a negative way, it’s bad. Neither offered an example of this, but for both, it really wouldn’t be a battle worth fighting. There are too many real issues facing American Indians. They also agreed that if Indians are shown in a positive light, it’s a good thing.
The only organisation that I have seen reported to be in favour of the NCAA position is the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). I should say the only Indian organisation. According to news sources, they have the support of the NAACP and the National Organization of Women. That tells me about all I need to know. This was confirmed by the Public Information officer of the Alabama-Coushatta, who told me that whilst all the federally recognised tribes are members of the NCAI, the leadership of the organisation pushes a particular political agenda.
The NCAA appears to have been pushed along by a 2001 statement by the US Commission on Civil Rights calling “for an end to the use of Native American images and team names by non-Native schools.” I haven’t been able to determine the composition of the USCCR in 2001. However, the present Commission is comprised of three black Republicans, one Hispanic Republican, one white Democrat, and one Chinese Democrat, with two Democrat vacancies. No Indians.
I also looked into the backgrounds of all 19 members of the NCAA Executive Committee. You guessed it. Not a single Indian. Plenty of well-meaning liberal non-Indians who know what’s best for them, of course.
If the Indian mascots have to change, what about others? After all, according to NCAA President Myles Brand, “The NCAA objects to institutions using racial/ethnic/national origin references in their intercollegiate athletics programs.” What negative stereotypes are being reinforced by the Fighting Irish and the Ragin’ Cajuns? “Tar Heel” was an insult levied at North Carolina’s residents who were so poor that they “walked around barefoot with tar on their heels”. Objection should also be raised about the Luther Norse, and Albion Britons. The Bethany Swedes have dodged all this by being members of the NAIA instead of the NCAA. The Hofstra Flying Dutchmen probably get brownie points for taking on the extra nickname “The Pride” and changing the lion on the right side of the Hofstra seal into a lioness to symbolize gender equity.
And who is going to stand up for other the historic ethnic groups serving as mascots, such as Trojans, Spartans, and Vandals? Soon you will have people tracing their genealogy back to these groups and asking for reparations. And finally, what about planetary origin? Surely the NCAA should investigate the Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans.
And Hofstra aside, there is also sexism to be dealt with. What is the NCAA doing about that? Teams at Division III Sweet Briar College are known as the Vixens. From their website: “vix·en (vik-sen) n. 1. a female fox. 2. a quarrelsome woman. The vixen was selected by Sweet Briar students as their mascot in 1979. The Oxford American Dictionary offers two definitions. Either works. Take your pick.” But what about the root issue? Sweet Briar College only admits women. Why is the NCAA worrying about mascots when it has member schools which openly discriminate on the basis of gender? With women comprising 56% of college students, who is looking out for minority rights?
Surely the mascot changes should be more sweeping. There is religious discrimination afoot. After all, what is “Demon Deacons” saying about the congregational leadership of Baptist churches? (They have to be Baptist deacons, as Wake Forest is a Baptist foundation.) The hierarchs of various Christian communions might take exception to Ohio Wesleyan’s Battling Bishops. After all, in 2000 Wheaton College removed any offence that could be taken by the Infidel when its Crusaders became the more meteorologically aggressive Thunder. Perhaps they were following the lead of the Earlham Hustling Quakers — once known as the Fighting Quakers, until the board of regents decided that it was inappropriate for Quakers to fight. But surely the NCAA should issue a ruling about these and the Whitman Missionaries, Providence Friars, and St. Joseph’s Monks.
What about the stereotyping of certain professions like Miners, Mountaineers, Pirates and Privateers, Boilermakers, Cowboys and Gauchos, Cornhuskers, Rivermen, Hatters and Loggers?
But let’s get back to Indians. As many as 11 US states are named after Indian tribes, or in the case of Indiana, after Indians generally. Fourteen others are named from Indian words. Who is going to enforce consistency here and make these states change their names, so they aren’t perceived as racist?
Now I will be the first to say that people groups populating the North America got a raw deal when European settlers arrived. Their land was stolen and they were often systematically annihilated. Those who survived were usually herded off into reservations. It is as shameful a past as that of other nations who have practiced genocide.
The NCAA should put its efforts behind improving the education of American Indians. Only 29% of the Indian population in the US are high school graduates. About 3% of Indians have two-year degrees. About 6% have Bachelor’s degrees.
The practice of mascots and nicknames for schools – and in particular their athletic programs – has provided an opportunity for the names of those tribes, or sometimes just the Indian heritage itself, to be remembered as they were before Europeans decided what was best for them and enforced it with the barrel of a gun. There is nothing racist about that. There is nothing “hostile or abusive” whether they specifically honour the Seminoles, Chippewa, Utes, Sioux, Choctaws, or Illini, or simply the “Braves” or the “Indians”.