Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Swamp Fox

I must confess that I bought into it. For most of my life I’d wondered if Indian style team mascots weren’t a bit over the top and whether we shouldn’t look at them the way we would any other stereotype, particularly of a traditionally oppressed people who were being used as an object of humor or mockery. So when the NCAA told FSU they’d have to stop calling themselves the Seminoles and get rid of the mascot Osceola, I assumed that they were speaking for the Seminoles.

The Seminoles are an incredible people. Refugees from the attempt to force all indigenous peoples out of the Southeast, their ancestors fled down into Florida where for a very long time they were hunted like animals by the United States Army. I have read that all of the Florida Seminoles today are the descendents of some 300 people who managed to outlast the Seminole Wars, as the genocide was called. The Florida Seminoles never surrendered. The man known as Osceola, the Swamp Fox, was a hero who died a broken man in captivity, having seen his mother tortured and murdered by the United States Army. Are we mocking him by using him to promote sports activities by the descendents of his persecutors?

So I was inclined to take their side against exploitation and Liberal that I am, I backed the move to put mascots like Illinois’ Chief Illini on the museum shelf along with minstrel shows. After all, I argued, the Seminoles should at least own their name to the extent that any corporation does. But here I made the same mistake so many of us make when we’re told that this or that word is bad and that we are racists for using it. I beleived without evidence and without asking questions.

The Florida Seminoles, it seems, are proud to have FSU use the name and mascot and take pride in the authenticity of the costume. An article in the Miami Herald today informs us that:

“the school appealed the NCAA ruling on the grounds that its six-decade relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida was one of mutual respect, so much so that the tribe in June passed a unanimous proclamation offering its endorsement of FSU's nickname and mascot, Chief Osceola”

This wasn't always true, of course. In the 1950s, historically inaccurate Plains Indians bearing hatchets, and Chief Fullabull, who acted drunk at basketball games and ceremonially massacred opposing mascot effigies, were used. But that was then and things have changed becuse of many decades of work by the University and the Seminoles. FSU now offers 13 scholarships to Seminole members and the Seminoles use the games to publicize their tribes, although Max Osceola, Tribal Council member says the tribe isn't interested in making money from the relationship by licensing the name.

So are we so used to assuming that our side is always right that we buy into our own propaganda without thinking? Does all the convoluted language we’re required to speak in order to avoid offending really offensive according the people it’s supposed to offend, or are we looking at the need to publish of some University Sociology Department? The answer is probably a little of each, but if we are to be Liberals, shouldn’t we allow questions or dissent or disbelief? After all, if we don’t, we’re not Liberals by anyone’s definition save that of the Republicans.


d.K. said...

Very interesting, indeed. The mascot of the high school I went to in Wisconsin was the Chieftain. We never used hatchets or any of that blarney - it was always a symbol of exalted power and pride, much like the Vikings that the Minnesota football team embraces. Nevertheless, the battle raged a few years back in my home town about changing the mascot, with local Indians on both sides of the issue. I agree that each case should be based on its own merits, and that one size rarely fits all.

Crankyboy said...

How about the "New York Jewish accountants" a relatively small and forgotten baseball team from the 1950s?

phinky said...

It could have been worse. It could have been the Florida State Crackers!

Capt. Fogg said...

Cracker is a term of pride down here, so it wouldn't be a surprise!