Friday, April 11, 2008

ASU Retires Indian Mascots

Originally Posted 29 February, 2008

Last night, in front of an audience of 6,651 standing spectators, the Arkansas State University officially retired it’s image of “Indian” and it’s three “Indian” mascots. The ceremony was conducted at half time during a basketball game between ASU and Louisiana-Monroe (which previously had discarded it’s name as “Indians”, replacing it with “Warhawks”).

Among the crowd were signs supporting the “Indians”, along with bare-chested boys and girls in T shirts, wearing body paint the spelled out “Indian”. Undoubtedly, there were many tears that were shed. The last “Chief Big Track”, Chad Shurley, was quoted in recent articles about the demise of the mascots to say “Being a little kid, I always thought (the Indian family was) really neat. It was like seeing Mickey Mouse at Disney World.” And: “I’ve also learned a lot more about Indian culture,” Shurley said. “We had to learn how to build a teepee and about our costumes.”

Of course, the mascots - who strode around in Plans Indian type clothing, were supposedly modeled after the Osage- which is an alive and well Tribe headquartered in Oklahoma - and who ASU President Dr. Wyatt thought were no longer in existence - Extinct. Such is the danger of mascots and stereotyping. As the Principal Chief of the Osage Nation, Jim Gray, has stated: “ If they want to honor Native Americans or honor Osages, there’s a lot of ways to do that without having caricatures of us at sporting events, (such as ) an understanding of our history, an understanding of our culture.”

While the ASU committee to study the mascot issue deserves some credit for finally making the right decision to do away with the stereotyping, the end result most likely would not have happened without outside pressure from American Indians - including pressure being put on the NCAA. Most of the credit can be given to a small group of federalized Indian activists living in Arkansas. These folks made numerous trips from around the state to observe ASU panels on the subject and to meet with ASU officials on several occasions. Their vigorous denunciation of the mascots and activities to defeat their use should be an inspiration for those battling mascot problems in other states.

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