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ASU battles to save its Indian 

Schools says mascot 'dignified.'

click to enlarge ASU'S INDIAN FAMILY: 'Responsible, dignified.'
  • ASU'S INDIAN FAMILY: 'Responsible, dignified.'
Arkansas State University is not ready to flatly declare that it will attempt to do as Florida State University has done, appeal for approval of its Indian mascot despite the NCAA effort to limit American Indian nicknames and mascots. But it seems likely an appeal is to come. Athletic Director Dean Lee said in an interview last week about the possibility that ASU might change mascots, “I do not see that from individuals and groups I have talked with.” Lee said there’d only been a scattering of opponents to the mascot, including from the organization represented by an accompanying opinion piece. Lee is now gathering information from various groups, including athletic booster clubs, ASU financial supporters and others. “We are trying to be a little more deliberate than Florida State,” Lee said. Lee doesn’t really expect to find much sentiment for change. “The support we have received across the board has been overwhelming in favor of retaining the mascot.” He said a final decision on making a formal appeal to the NCAA to avoid being penalized for the Indian mascot will come sometime this fall. The NCAA rule doesn’t take effect until Feb. 1, Lee said, so there’s no immediate urgency in conforming to the ruling. Lee said he so far had not “visited with” any of the organized tribes of Indians. He said he had met with a Jonesboro resident in April who is a member of the so-called Lost Cherokees, a group that claims Indian roots but has been denied official recognition as a tribe by federal officials. Aug. 5, the NCAA said it would ban use of Indian images at postseason tournaments it runs. This covers things such as signs, garb of cheerleaders and bands and logos on uniforms. At least 18 schools, including Arkansas State, faced sanctions. Last week, the NCAA agreed that Florida State University could continue to use the Seminole Tribe as a mascot. It weighed the approval of the mascot by both the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. The Florida tribe had worked with Florida State on the costume of its Chief Osceola mascot and approved face paint, a flaming spear and use of an Appaloosa horse, though the latter items have no connection to Seminole history. “The NCAA executive committee continues to believe the stereotyping of Native Americans is wrong,” Bernard Franklin, the association’s senior vice president for governance and membership, said in a statement. “However, in its review of the particular circumstances regarding Florida State, the staff review committee noted the unique relationship between the university and the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a significant factor.” Now the debate moves to other schools, presumed to be less powerful because they don’t have Florida State’s high profile in major athletics, particularly football. ASU leadership has continually rejected a change of mascot, though members of the school faculty have recommended it, including in a formal vote in 2003. ASU, whose teams had earlier been known as Aggies and Gorillas, adopted the Indian mascot in 1931. It doesn’t honor a specific tribe, though ASU literature says the name pays tribute to Indians that once lived in Arkansas, including the Osage tribe which once lived in Northeast Arkansas and warred with other tribes. “For that reason, ASUers look with pride to the fighting spirit which dwelled among the Indians of Northern Arkansas,” an athletic department publication explains. The university took a less warlike position in explaining its Indian heritage in a self-evaluation filed with the NCAA. “The board of trustees of the university has publicly directed that ‘the use of the Indians name be responsible and dignified, and for the university to continue to develop educational programs which honor and acknowledge Native American heritage.’ ” Athletic Director Lee says the school takes the matter “extremely seriously.” It changed logos some years ago to remove cartoonish depictions of a bare-chested Indian with a tomahawk. “We make an annual review of what we’re doing and have strict protocols of dos and don’ts of the conduct of our Indian family and there’s a lot of things we just don’t allow them to do that kind of goes into the gray area of being hostile and abusive.”
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