The Seminole Tribe benefits from FSU ties

Published Aug. 31, 2005|Updated Sept. 12, 2005

Last week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association reversed its recent decision that would have forced Florida State University to drop the use of the "Seminole" name and related symbols.

But it continued to ban the use of Native American mascots and nicknames in postseason NCAA tournaments, a decision that affects 17 other universities.

As a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, I believe the NCAA should encourage those colleges to build better relations with the Native American community. Perhaps each university could establish a relationship with a reservation, involving programs like internships, scholarships and tribal history and culture classes.

Here in Florida, the relationship we have with Florida State goes beyond the football field. Florida State encourages members of the Seminole Tribe to apply for admission and spreads information about Seminole culture and history.

Too many Americans, including Native Americans, get caught up in the debate over the tomahawk chop and miss the opportunity that comes in having a tribe in a close alliance with a major university.

While the Seminole Tribe of Florida gets no financial compensation for the university's use of the Seminole name and related symbols, the richness of the relationship brings a variety of social and economic benefits to our tribe.

The use of Indian nicknames and mascots by colleges and universities started in the early 1900s. Many of these names were generic _ Braves, Chiefs and Warriors _ but some were the names of tribes like the Chippewas, the Hurons, the Sioux and, of course, the Seminoles. Eventually, there were more than 100 colleges with Indian mascots and some 2,500 high schools. Professional sports teams joined in, too.

In the '60s and '70s, however, activist groups began challenging the use of some of these names, calling them offensive. Around that time, officials from FSU approached the Seminole Tribe to make sure their use of certain symbols was accurate and respectful.

We requested they stop using the "Sammy the Seminole" caricature, and they did. Sammy was replaced by Chief Osceola, who was a great tribal military leader and a brilliant battlefield tactician. This was long before anyone at the NCAA even cared about the use of Indian names.

The university also reached out to the tribe in other ways. For years, Florida State University has invited Seminole Tribe high school students to visit its Tallahassee campus. The university organizes an annual summer trip to encourage young Seminoles to apply for admission. And the program is working. This fall, four new Seminole students will join four already enrolled there.

The school also uses printed materials and statewide television broadcasts to share with the public the history and culture of the Seminole Tribe so that our non-Indian neighbors have a better sense of who we are.

And then there's the university's impact in Tallahassee. Hundreds of Florida government officials are Florida State graduates and supporters. We deal with these people every day, working with them to clean up the Everglades, to improve the roads that lead to our reservations and to support the public schools that many of our children attend.

For all these reasons and more, our Tribal Council voted unanimously to support the university in its efforts to keep the Seminole name. It's a shame that other colleges and tribes aren't finding a way to make similar accommodations.

Jim Shore is general counsel of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The New York Times