The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Mascot controversies can be found elsewhere

Marquette isn't the only university debating the appropriateness of a team name with Indian context.

Other universities have dealt with mascot controversies differently. Both the University of North Dakota and Florida State University have kept its American Indian mascots. A Mississippi school is phasing out its American Indian nickname. And the University of Illinois is in the middle of a mascot controversy similar to Marquette's.

The University of North Dakota at Grand Forks has not shied away from cheering on the Fighting Sioux, but that does not mean the nickname has been free of debate.

Peter Johnson, the university's media relations coordinator, cited two recent instances when controversy raged. In 1992, fraternity members insulted American Indian children dancing on a float in traditional costume. Then in 2001, Ralph Engelstad, a wealthy businessman and alumnus, threatened to cut off funding and construction on a new hockey arena of which he was the sole source of funding if the nickname Fighting Sioux name was abandoned, Johnson said.

In 2000, a university-commissioned survey found most students and alumni supported keeping the nickname by over a 2 to 1 margin. Over half the American Indian students favored a name change — 44 percent said the nickname did not honor the Sioux people and 45 percent said they were concerned athletic opponents did not honor the Sioux.

In December 2001, the state's nine-member Board of Higher Education, which controls all of the colleges and universities in the state, made a unanimous decision — the nickname would stand, Johnson said.

The mascot of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is Chief Illiniwek, portrayed by a student who dances in full Indian regalia, including a headdress. In 1989, an American Indian graduate student, unaware of Chief Illiniwek, went to a basketball game and was offended by his dancing, said Lex Tate, spokeswoman for the university.

The student, Charlene Teters, organized a protest against Chief Illiniwek. Over the next decade, the outcry against the Chief continued to grow, as did resistance to changing the mascot.

In 1990, Tate said the university's board of trustees passed a resolution declaring that Chief Illiniwek was an inoffensive university symbol.

In 1995, the Illinois state legislature debated Chief Illiniwek and eventually approved the symbol. However, then-Governor Jim Edgar (R), used his amendatory veto power to change, and eventually weaken, the wording of the resolution so the mascot could, if needed, easily be changed.

In April, Democratic president of the state Senate, Emil Jones, threatened to cut money in the school's budget if the mascot wasn't changed to something less offensive. The Illinois Board of Trustees resolved in June to look for opportunities to celebrate American Indians, Tate said, but no decision to change the mascot has been reached.

Illinois itself has no Indian reservations and not many Indians, so pressure to change has come largely from tribes and American Indians of other states, Tate said.

The nickname of the school, "Fighting Illini," is named after an Indian tribe but does not carry nearly as much controversy as Chief Illiniwek, Tate said.

With so many opinions on both sides, "it's hard to predict on this issue what will happen," Tate said. "There's a lot of emotional attachment to the Chief."

Florida State University's team name is the Seminoles, after a Florida tribe that was not conquered during the Indian wars of the 1800s. To avoid offending the Seminole tribe, the university consulted with tribal leaders about the nickname, said Browning Brooks, spokeswoman for FSU.

"It's not seen in any way as being derogatory," Brooks said. The Seminole tribe "is honored by the name."

Other American Indian groups, like the American Indian Movement, have attempted to convince FSU to change its name, but the Seminole tribe asked AIM to stop its attempts, Brooks said.

Alcorn State University, in Claiborne County, Miss., announced last summer it would be phasing out the use of the name Braves after years of controversy, said Christopher Cason, director of university relations.

"It's a cultural sensitivity issue," Cason said.

The university, led by president Clifton Barstow, followed the NCAA's lead in eliminating insensitive names, he said.

The Braves logo featuring an Indian has been phased out, replaced by an A with the word "Alcorn" through it. The team name is slowly being phased out, but no new team name has been announced, Cason said.

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