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The debate over Indian mascots: does the NCAA's ban on Indian mascots and nicknames go too far, or not far enough? Fans--and tribes--are divided.

When Chief Osceola, Florida State University's Indian mascot, rides onto the field on horseback before football games and plants a flaming spear at the 50-yard line, the team's fans erupt with cheers. For many of them, the Chief (actually a student in face paint and costume) represents the honor, courage, and bravado they want the team's players to emulate.

But many Native Americans see something else entirely: a negative stereotype and an insult to their most prized traditions.

This summer, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), which governs college sports, banned Florida State and 17 other universities from using what it deemed "hostile and abusive" Indian mascots, logos, and nicknames during postseason play. The ban came after years of complaints from Native American groups.


"When children grow up playing cowboys and Indians, in schools that have very little on the real history of native people and all the contributions they've made, it really victimizes Native Americans and all children," says Vernon Bellecourt, president of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media. "It distorts and trivializes a living people's culture and impacts negatively on Native American self-esteem."

But in the case of Florida State, which successfully petitioned the NCAA to drop it from the list of banned mascots, the issue is far from clear-cut. The team's "Seminole" nickname, in use since 1947, and the Chief Osceola mascot, have long been supported by the local Seminole tribe. In fact, the tribe helped the university create its mascot costume, approving the face paint, flaming spear, and the Appaloosa horse, none of which have any connection to Seminole history.

"That the NCAA would now label our close bond with the Seminole people as culturally 'hostile and abusive' is both outrageous and insulting," said Florida State's president in a statement after the policy was first announced.

Florida State appealed the ban, announced in August, and less than a month later, the NCAA agreed to remove the school from the list.

The Seminoles are descended from Creek Indians who lived along rivers in Georgia and Alabama. In the 1800s, the federal government forced hundreds of Indians south into Florida. Thousands more were forced to march to Oklahoma along what became known as the Trail of Tears. Continued conflict with the federal government pushed the surviving Seminole farther down the Florida peninsula, into the Everglades.

The Seminole are the only Indian tribe that never signed a formal peace treaty with the United States. To celebrate this status, Florida State erected "Unconquered," a statue of the Chief Osceola mascot, outside its football stadium.

On a nearby reservation, loyalty to Florida State is declared on mailboxes with "FSU #1 Fan" stickers, and on pickup trucks with Seminole vanity plates. The university says that it has been making efforts to give back to the Seminole community, including offering substantial scholarships to Seminole students and developing a class on the tribe's history and culture.

According to Jim Shore, general counsel of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, colleges began using Indian mascots in the early 1900s, but in the 1960s and 1970s, activists started protesting the use of such names. To this day, the controversy continues at both the college and high school levels.

After studying the issue for years, the NCAA issued the ban, which is scheduled to go into effect in February. The prohibition includes logos, signs in stadiums, cheerleader and band uniforms, and mascots.


Some critics say the ban is a step in the right direction, but that it hasn't gone far enough. The ban, for example, doesn't include regular season games.

At the high school level, there is no equivalent to the NCAA, so it's up to local school boards or state legislatures to decide which mascots are appropriate. In recent years, many high schools have replaced Indian mascots and nicknames with less controversial ones.

While the NCAA continues to review appeals from other schools, some of which say they have the support of local tribes, Bellecourt is glad the NCAA acted. The ban, he says, "has put this whole issue right back on the front burner of the American conscience."


* Alcorn State University (Braves)

* Catawba Cortege (Indians)

* Midwestern State University (Indians)

* Indiana University-Pennsylvania (Indians]

* Carthage Cortege (Redmen)

* Bradley University (Braves)

* Arkansas State University (Indians)

* Chowan Cortege (Braves)

* University of Illinois (Fighting Illini)

* University of Louisiana-Monroe (Indians)

* McMurry University (Indians)

* Mississippi Cortege (Choctaws)

* Newberry College (Indians)

* University of North Dakota (Fighting Sioux)

* Southeastern Oklahoma State University (Savages)

* Florida State University (Seminoles)

* Central Michigan University (Chippewas)

* University of Utah (Utes)

Note: Schools in gray appealed the ban and have been taken off the list. The NCAA is reviewing other appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Robert Andrew Powell reports on sports for The Times; additional reporting by Elizabeth Mayer
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Title Annotation:SOCIETY; National Collegiate Athletic Association
Author:Powell, Robert Andrew
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 28, 2005
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