Coastal Voices: Indian mascots can be respectful

Written by Scott Rogers January 06, 2014 02:53 pm

On Monday night the Florida State University Seminoles will play for the college football national championship. I would encourage everyone to watch this game with open eyes.

The FSU mascot is the product of cooperation between FSU and the Seminole people. A student wears a black wig, war paint, rides a horse named “Renegade,” and carries a flaming spear onto the field.  He is a portrayal of the great Seminole Chief Osceola.

This is done with the full support of the Seminoles, who hand-made the regalia he wears.  Go to YouTube, “Spirit of Florida State,” and preview an ad for the school likely to air Monday night.

Outside FSU’s home field is a statue of Osceola on horseback. Though he died in jail after being arrested under a white flag while coming to a peace conference, Osceola is immortalized as the great leader he was: with raised lance on a rearing stallion.  Beneath him is one word:  UNCONQUERED.

Future president Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson (on a $20 bill) tangled with the Seminoles. The hero of the Battle of New Orleans (War of 1812) could not defeat the Seminole people.  Two more “Seminole Wars” did no better.

The FSU band is called the Marching Chiefs. Listen to “Seminole Uprising” on YouTube and see if you don’t find it stirring. The helmets of FSU players feature feathered lances. Players who have made a great play are awarded a sticker to place on the helmet: a small Tomahawk. 

After a big play, the band plays the FSU “Warchant.”  Initially this was accompanied by an arm swing to signal a first down. Over the years the gesture’s use was expanded to include big plays by the defense, special teams, or other key moments.    

If you “Google” the “Seminole Tribune” (the Seminole newsletter) and read the November 2013 issue, you will see pictures of Seminoles in regalia at the FSU homecoming game.  In another picture, Seminoles are presenting longtime FSU coach Bobby Bowden (the man who selected the Seminole as the mascot and approached the tribe for guidance/permission) with a traditional Seminole doll. 

It is my hope that we can follow that example of cooperation, honoring and healing in our community. Our mascot should be an example of the culture, tradition, and history of the original people of this land. As we include instruction at all grade levels about native people, the mascot should be an extension of that: a walking embodiment of the heritage we strive to teach and honor in the classrooms.

The wrongs of the past are undeniable. They are also unalterable. The future, however, is pliable. If we work together, we can shape it into something honorable.

Our mascot should be a symbol of the local native culture. It can also be an example of cooperation; a beginning of healing.  If the adults could work this out, what better example could be set for all the young people who will be in those classrooms?

FSU and the Seminoles have accomplished something special, with an emphasis upon respect.

The undefeated FSU Seminoles will play Monday for the championship of college football.  I hope you’ll watch with open eyes.  The significance of the FSU-Seminole partnership dwarfs the outcome of any sporting contest.   We can learn from them.

Scott Rogers is a Smith River resident.