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Education Reporter

Indian Mascots: An Endangered Species
Warlike American Indian mascots for school and college athletic teams are disappearing from the landscape under pressure from Indian activists.

In 1970, more than 3,000 U.S. athletic programs referred to American Indians in nicknames, logos or mascots, according to the Morning Star Institute. By late 2003 there were fewer than 1,100 and only a handful of major universities continued the practice. (New York Times, 12-16-03)

One of those is the University of Illinois, which has endured criticism for years for its symbol Chief Illiniwek, created in 1926 by the university's assistant band director. The chief first appeared during a game against Penn, when he offered a peace pipe to a mascot of William Penn.

Last year, Illinois Senate president Emil Jones demanded that the university board of trustees drop the symbol, comparing the pro-chief trustees to segregationists. Jones admitted he hadn't seen the chief in action.

Advocates for the chief told legislators that the chief is a symbol of pride that unifies the campus and draws attention to Native American issues. (Chicago Tribune, 4-28-04) A March 2004 poll showed that 69% of the students favored keeping the mascot.

This spring, to minimize controversy, Chief Illiniwek, who normally performs an Indian dance, stayed home when his team participated in the Final Four college basketball event in St. Louis.

In California, American Indian mascots were banned from Los Angeles public schools almost a decade ago. The state legislature last year passed a bill prohibiting "Redskins" at other California schools, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. A similar bill is pending this year.

Some tribes support mascots 
American Indian sentiment is not united against Indian mascots. Tulare High principal Howard Berger told the Los Angeles Times that several tribes near his California community continue to endorse the Redskins mascot. (4-12-05)

After a Seattle-area school board banned a "tomahawk chop" at school sporting events in 2001-02, many students at Marysville-Pilchuck High School disobeyed the policy and continued to use the chop and accompanying chant at games when cheering for their teams. A "tomahawk-chop task force" of students formed this year to lead discussions in every classroom of why some find the chop offensive.

However, a Tulalip Tribes official said he and the majority of tribal members think the mascot is okay. (Seattle Times, 2-6-04)

Aztec returns to San Diego 
Bucking the nationwide trend, the Aztec Warrior was adopted as the official mascot of San Diego State University in late 2003, following an overwhelmingly favorable vote by students and alumni. The university went two years without a mascot after Monty Montezuma was banished by President Stephen L. Weber as culturally offensive and historically incorrect. Weber promised, however, to abide by the subsequent vote. (Los Angeles Times, 12-12-03)

Some universities have sought to pressure other universities into dropping Indian mascots by refusing to play them. The University of Iowa cancelled a baseball game with Bradley University in 2004 because of its team's nickname the Braves. Bradley students voted overwhelmingly not to change the Braves' name.

Even the name "Warriors" was deemed too Indian to be retained by Marquette University for its athletes this spring. Students and alumni will vote to select a new name, but are not permitted to vote for any variation of the word "war."

Marquette is located in Wisconsin, where there are 13 high schools with Warriors, five with Crusaders, five with Raiders, six with Red Raiders, 14 with Indians, seven with Blackhawks, four with Chiefs, five with Chieftains, and one with Hatchets (located in a town called Tomahawk). (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5-27-05) Are all those teams' days numbered as well? Will Tomahawk's name face the hatchet next?

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