Good reasons to keep Indians

Saturday, May 29, 2004

By Jennifer Ferrell

The rain streams down on a dreary Friday night, but the entire town of Jackson is crowded around a little football field to watch their Indians defeat Cape Central.

Teenagers all around me sport "GO INDIANS" T-shirts and red face paint. The only thing that matters to the crowd is the game.

Suddenly, Jackson scores a touchdown. The crowd roars, and out comes the Indian. Bare-chested in freezing rain, he runs proud around the football field. The crowd screams and stands as he passes each section of bleachers.

I, like the others around me, feel a sense of pride in my community, my school and my team. That night, like many, I went home proud to be a Jackson Indian.

Southeast Missouri State University's mascot, the Indian, should not be changed for the following reasons: The Indian represents tradition. The mascot is symbolic, not real. And Native Americans should be proud to have their heritage on display.

The Indian heritage at Southeast is steeped in tradition. A Southeast Missourian story said, "Southeast sports teams have had Indian nicknames since 1922." During this time, thousands of students have passed through the university and were proud to identify with the Indian name.

These same alumni fondly remember the Capaha Arrow (the school's newspaper) as well as the Sagamore (the yearbook). Prior to 1985, Princess Otahki and Chief Sagamore were present at athletic events and other university functions, proudly dressed in Native American attire.

Not only is Southeast's mascot a tradition, but it is also a symbol intended to represent the strength, history and pride of the Native Americans. The mascot is not meant to be viewed as something frivolous but more of honor and respect.

Schools traditionally choose nicknames and mascots with characteristics that portray: Strength, agility, endurance. Although I believe this to be true, others have differing opinions. According to Rex Veeder, interim director of the St. Cloud State University American Indian Center, "When people are excited about a big game or a tournament appearance, there are all kinds of images and caricatures that appear" -- meaning that a lot of opposing schools treat their rival's mascots in a negative or derogatory way before games.

Kenneth Dement, former president of the board of regents, disagrees in saying, "I come from an Indian background and consider it an honor to have my heritage represented this way. I played under the Indian name for four years during college, and the name has great meaning to me."

Although Southeast's mascot is a symbol, it is something that can be looked at as a source of pride and honor to the American Indian heritage. No high school or college teams is named after an animal or group of people that aren't known for their sense of strength or strong will.

The Native American should look at the nicknames as a sense of respect. John Phillips, an Arkansas State University alumnus, states, "The Indian culture can be respectfully portrayed by a school mascot."

When someone dresses up as an Indian for the football games, they come onto the field with the crowd cheering and respecting them. So if schools want to stoop to the level of referring to their school as the Aggressive Soybeans, that's fine. But when someone asks me what school I am from, I will proudly respond Jackson High School, home of the Indians.

Representing tradition, the symbolism of mascots and pride in American Indian heritage are just a few examples of why the Southeast mascot should not be changed. Indian culture and tradition run deep within the heart of Cape Girardeau. Just because we truly degraded Native Americans during the Trail of Tears, it doesn't mean we shouldn't honor them for their heritage.

Jennifer Ferrell is a Jackson resident.

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