American Indian group voices stereotype worry

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Southeast Missouri State University should scrap its Indian nicknames, say some local American Indians who are mostly concerned about offensive stereotypes.

About 20 American Indians attended a meeting Saturday afternoon in Cape Girardeau at the American Indian Center of the Heartland. The organization, founded last November, is headquartered upstairs above the Cherokee Trails Gift Shop at 811 Broadway.

While opinions were voiced at the meeting, no vote was taken.

Several American Indians at the meeting said their real objection is with students dressing up as Indians and performing silly sideline stunts that reflect Hollywood stereotypes rather than true Indian culture. Those at the meeting said dressing up a student in an Indian costume for sporting events can't be done in a dignified way.

Center co-founder Glinda Seabaugh, who is proud of her Cherokee heritage and operates the gift shop with her husband, Mike, believes it's time for Southeast to do away with the Indian nicknames.

"I don't think the name itself is offensive. What is offensive is a mascot," Glinda Seabaugh said.

Auctioneer Ed Triplett of Marble Hill, who is Cherokee, said he doesn't want to see a student dancing around in an Indian costume.

Even though Southeast did away with the Indian mascot in 1985, Triplett said the university should find a new nickname.

He and others said they were uncomfortable with the school's use of Indians as a nickname and how it might be portrayed at sporting events by students and fans in the stands.

Seabaugh said she has received correspondence from American Indians in the region and plans to forward those comments to the university's board of regents.

Not all American Indians in the region who have contacted her object to Southeast's use of the Indian nickname, Glinda Seabaugh said.

A campus committee plans to recommend the school retire its Indian and Otahkian nicknames and find a gender-neutral name and a suitable mascot.

The committee currently is deciding between red wolves and red hawks as a new nickname.

The regents are expected to make a final decision in June on whether to accept the committee's recommendations or keep the Indian nicknames.

The men's teams are called the Indians. The women's teams are called the Otahkians, a reference to a Cherokee woman who died on the Trail of Tears forced march to Oklahoma in the 1800s.

Mike Seabaugh, who is part Cherokee, said he believes Southeast for the most part has used the Indian nicknames "with a lot of respect."

But he welcomed the school's decision to quit having students dress up as Chief Sagamore and Princess Otahki 19 years ago, and said his viewpoint is changing "somewhat" with mounting criticism nationwide about the use of Indian nicknames on college campuses.

Timexx Rainwalker, the Seabaughs' son, worries that American Indian heritage may be completely ignored if schools nationwide quit using Indian nicknames. At some point, Indian names might be removed from parks, streets and rivers, he said.

But Ed Leoni, health and recreation professor at Southeast and the chairman of the school committee recommending the Indian nicknames be retired, told those at the meeting that it's wrong to use Indian nicknames and mascots for sports teams.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association increasingly is encouraging colleges and universities to drop Indian nicknames and mascots.

"You can't just be an 'Indian' any longer and not come under scrutiny from the NCAA," Leoni said.

Leoni said the university committee's call for retirement of the Indian nicknames is unpopular with the public. But he said it's the right thing to do.

James Edwards of Jackson, an Oglala Sioux, said schools should quit using Indian nicknames and mascots. "It's disrespecting Native Americans," he said. "It's like making fun of my family's heritage."

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