It’s not easy being Green
By Caroline Buck, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Monday, April 19, 2010
A string of controversies surrounding the University of North Dakota’s choice of symbol forced the school to abandon its former emblem, the Figthing Sioux, on April 8, after using the tribe as its representative since the 1930s. UND’s former Native American symbol caused controversy in Hanover in 2006 when Dartmouth, who also previously used an Indian as its moniker, played against the UND men’s hockey team. Former Dartmouth’s Athletic Director Josie Harper wrote a letter to The Dartmouth apologizing for allowing the Dartmouth men’s hockey team to compete against UND after the game. In her letter, Harper wrote that allowing the Big Green to play the Fighting Sioux would “understandably offend and hurt people within our community”.
Harper’s comments received backlash from UND’s president as well as the current governor of North Dakota, John Hoeven, who told the Associated Press that Harper “takes her position with really no knowledge of North Dakota”.
In response to Harper’s controversy-provoking letter, former College President James Wright started a task force known as the Stam committee. The committee’s purpose was to discuss what the college should do in regards to athletic competitions with schools that use Native Americans as mascots or symbols.
In a 2008 interview with The Dartmouth, Harper said she believed a student-initiated quest for a new mascot would be positive for athletics.
“It needs to be unified,” Harper said, “The alums are always going to have their strong feelings on it, and it’s very important that it’s explained to them and you get as much buy-in as possible, but this is your Dartmouth, and I think the student body will carry the day here.”
Dartmouth has since seen some attempts at reviving its own Indian insignia, while also experiencing the emergence of other options, such as the “Dartmoose” and “Keggy the Keg.” The student government, however, only officially endorses Dartmoose and Keggy.
“Bring back the Indian,” J.P. Garry ’13 said. “We should do what it takes to bring that mascot back.”
Other members of the Dartmouth community, however, disagreed.
“Both my father and grandfather went here and are still very tied to the Indian mascot, but I think Dartmouth has done the right thing to separate itself from this image,” Jay Webster ’13 said. “Because Dartmouth puts so much emphasis on honoring its Native American roots, it wouldn’t really make sense to use the Indian in association with sports teams if it could be construed as demeaning.”
ESPN’s Patrick Cain did a recent roundup of bizarre mascots, which included the University of California Santa Cruz Banana Slugs and Dartmouth’s Keggy — who was honored with the “gold medal of our non-medal competition”.
Dartmouth, referred to as the Big Green since the 1860s, has also had its share of mascot-related controversy. Though the College has never had an officially sponsored mascot, sports journalists often used to refer to the athletic teams as the Indians.
In the 1970s, however, the Board of Trustees decided that the nickname was offensive and it was no longer used.
Some students feel that if Dartmouth endorsed a new mascot, school spirit could be renewed and fan turnout might increase at athletic events.
“As a school, our support and excitement about athletics is lacking,” Brendin Beaulieu-Jones ’13, a track athlete, said. “I believe that a mascot would provide a unified front for athletics.”
Some Dartmouth student-athletes find the current nickname vague, and perhaps even embarrassing, like Travis Whitfield ’11 and Michael Abendroth ’11.
“Do we even have a mascot?” Abendroth said,
Several students, however, choose to recognize neither the “Dartmoose,” nor “Keggy” and would rather opt for an alternative.
“[I’d like to be the] Mountaineers. Dartmouth Men and Women Mountainners,” Barret Folk ’13 said.
The NCAA started a movement in 2005 to ban Native American nicknames and mascots of colleges that it deemed “hostile and abusive”. It created a list of 18 schools thought to be inappropriately displaying Native Americans and then banned mascots or adapted symbols, uniforms and cheerleaders that displayed those emblems from attending tournaments.
The NCAA has successfully targeted some of those colleges and forced them to change their nicknames and mascots. The University of Illinois, for example, retained its nickname — the Fighting Illini — but had to remove Chief Illiniwek as its mascot.
Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., had no official mascot but its teams were nicknamed the Braves before a vote was attempted in 2007 to elect a mascot. The options for the new mascot included a clock, firefighter and squirrel. No winner was selected.
Some schools that were singled out by the NCAA for having inappropriate nicknames and mascots were able to successfully retain their monikers. The Florida State Seminoles and their mascot, Chief Osceola, are supported by local Seminole tribes in the area as a source of Native American pride.
In an interview with The Orlando Sentinel, tribe councilman Max Osceola said that Florida State University “works with us [Seminole Native Americans] in representing our heritage”.
In 1978, the university was granted permission from the Seminole tribe to portray Chief Osceola and his horse, Renegade, riding out on the football field before a game against Oklahoma State University. Chief Osceola, with a spear in hand, and Renegade now open every home game for the Seminoles. Women from the Seminole tribe designed the traditional garb that Chief Osceola wears out on the field.
“Everyone loves Chief Osceola and being a Seminole in general,” Deirdre Grass, a Florida State University freshman, told the Sentinel. “I don’t think that the students believe it is dishonoring the tribe especially because the Seminole tribe endorses the college.”
With its sports teams recently known as the Tribe, the College of William and Mary was also allowed to keep this nickname since the name was judged by the NCAA to not be inherently offensive. The school, however, did act to remove the two feathers from it’s emblem.
Until the 1980s, William and Mary was also known as the Indians but this nickname was later replaced by the Tribe. This month, the school just voted to change its mascot to a mythical animal — a griffin.
Comedy Central host of “The Daily Show” — and a William and Mary graduate — Jon Stewart said that the griffin is “apparently ancient Greek for the rare pants-less tailed eagle.”
UND originally changed its symbol the from Flickertails, a type of squirrel, to the Fighting Sioux in the 1930s for three reasons, according to UND’s student newspapaer, the Dakota Student.
“Sioux are a good exterminating agent for Bison [North Dakota University’s mascot],” the article states. “They are warlike, of fine physique and bearing. The word Sioux is easily rhymed for yells and songs.”
In 2005 when the NCAA banned all Native American mascots, UND was given until November 2010 to come to an agreement with the two Sioux tribes in the region — Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux — in order to keep the symbol.
The university was able to cooperate with one tribe, the Spirit Lake Sioux, but not with the Standing Rock. On April 8, UND was formally forced to retire the Fighting Sioux as its team name and emblem.
The legal drama between UND and the NCAA was wrapped up quickly in order for preparations to be made for the school to compete in Division I sports and join the Midwestern Summit League.
The original version of this article incorrectly referred to UND's Fighting Sioux symbol as its official mascot of the university. The symbol and name were in fact never adopted as the official mascots, but were only used unofficially.