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Insult or honor? Indian mascots and logos inspire strong feelings on all sides.

His face decorated with war paint, a man dressed as Chief Osceola, a 19th-century Seminole warrior and the Florida State University (FSU) mascot, gallops across the football field. At the 50-yard line, he hurls a spear into the grass. He does this before every home football game for the FSU Seminoles.

Mascots like Chief Osceola, which are often based on stereotypical images of Native American tribes, are still common in sports--from high schools and colleges to professional teams.



Are they heroic or offensive? That's the question being asked at many schools around the U.S. For example, the University of North Dakota (UND) recently retired the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and Indian-head logo for its sports teams.

"If [other groups] would just think about how their own cultures would respond if someone was out there at a football game dancing and making a mockery of their sacred items, they would see how we feel," says Robert Holden, director of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

American Indians began protesting such team names in the late 1960s. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) put UND on a list of colleges whose teams use "hostile or abusive" names and imagery of Native Americans.

The NCAA said that schools could keep their Indian mascots if they got permission from tribes within the state. Florida State did get permission from the Seminoles. But in North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal council opposed letting UND keep the nickname, although the Spirit Lake Sioux voted to support it.

Some state lawmakers and Spirit Lake members are trying to amend North Dakota's constitution to let UND teams once again call themselves the Fighting Sioux. For now, the school has begun to remove the logo from its facilities.

Many colleges and high schools have changed their nicknames or imagery, but only one major professional team has--the NBA's Golden State Warriors, which dropped their Indian-headdress logo in 1969.

In baseball, the Cleveland Indians' logo is "Chief Wahoo." In the NFL, the Washington Redskins go by a name from colonial America, when settlers earned bounties for killing Indians. As proof of a kill, colonists would present scalps called "redskins."

Since 1991, the NCAI and other groups have tried to get the Redskins to change their name. "It's not a term of honor, as they make it out to be," Holden says. But Redskins owners argue that the name has become synonymous with football, not Indians.

High schools are also grappling with the issue. Last year, in the Red Lodge district of Montana, school board members voted to give up their schools' Redskins logo.

The unanimous decision was met with a standing ovation. "It's beyond political correctness," board member Rich Lynde told the Billings Gazette. "It's just correct."


Chief Osceola, Florida State University's mascot, rides in on his horse before a football game.
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Author:Bubar, Joe
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Jan 30, 2012
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