Indian Mascots: Matter Of Pride or Prejudice?

David Narcomey, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, says FSU should stop using the Seminole mascot. Others in the tribe disagree.
David Narcomey, a member of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, says FSU should stop using the Seminole mascot. Others in the tribe disagree. (By Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)

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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 14, 2005

When Florida State University's Chief Osceola gallops on his horse across the football field with his flaming spear at the school's next home game, Jim Shore and other members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida will welcome the controversial mascot with open arms.

"The Seminoles have no problem with the use of the name or symbols or mascot," Shore said.

But in Oklahoma, where most members of the original Seminole nation were marched to at gunpoint during the Indian wars more than a century ago, the tribe has members who accept Osceola and others who are working with activists to knock the pretend chief off his spotted horse.

"We feel like it gives the type of recognition that allows people to identify with the name 'Seminoles,' " Ken Chambers, the outgoing chief of the Great Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, told the Palm Beach Post.

"Chambers doesn't know what he's talking about," David Narcomey, a member of the Oklahoma tribe's governing council, said Friday while attending the Native American Pow Wow at MCI Center in Washington. Oklahoma's Seminole Tribe joined the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma in condemning Indian mascots and is a member organization of the National Congress of American Indians, which repudiates native mascots, he said.

The disagreement among the Oklahoma Seminoles came to light last week after the NCAA announced that it will ban Indian images from championship games, a decision that will affect 18 schools, including two colleges with high-profile sports teams -- Florida State and the University of Illinois, where the mascot is the feathered Chief Illiniwek.

The NCAA said that opposition to Florida State's mascot by Oklahoma's Seminoles was a factor in its decision to include the school in the ban. But after the chief contradicted Narcomey, the collegiate association is reconsidering its challenge. Meanwhile, Florida State has planned a formal appeal.

But the debate over the morality of Indian mascots appears to be gaining momentum. Regardless of the NCAA's decision, Chief Osceola would not be allowed on several major college campuses that in recent years have prohibited the use of Indian images in sports.

Last month in Washington, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that a Native American, Manteo Romero of New Mexico, could challenge the trademark on the Washington Redskins.

Redskins officials say the name honors Indians, and across the country, high schools and colleges that use such nicknames say the same. But large groups of Native Americans say the images are often crudely drawn stereotypes created by white people who have not taken the time to learn about Indian cultures ravaged in the 19th century by U.S. military forces.

Even polls disagree. A survey conducted in 2002 by Sports Illustrated found that 81 percent of Native Americans who live outside traditional Indian reservations and 53 percent of Indians on reservations did not find the images discriminatory.

One year later, the newspaper Indian Country Today conducted a poll that found almost the opposite. It said that 81 percent of respondents found the images disparaging to Native Americans and that 75 percent said they seemed to violate anti-discrimination laws, as they were described by poll workers.


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