Non-Indian Oklahoma schools plan to keep Indian mascots, despite call to end practice

Saturday, April 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Officials at some non-Indian Oklahoma schools say they have no plans to drop their Indian mascots, despite calls from a government commission to do so.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said Friday such practices may violate anti-discrimination laws, but Tulsa Union Public Schools Superintendent Cathy Burden said the district will continue to use ``Redskins'' as its moniker. She said their symbol was designed by an American Indian student and that the nickname has the support of an Indian parent group.

``We always intend to use the mascot as a symbol of pride in our Native American heritage in Oklahoma,'' she said.

Chad Smith, principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, used Friday's statement by the commission to renew his call for ending the use of Indian nicknames by schools.

``It's a function of ignorance,'' he said. ``Many mascots and the broader use of the Indian as an icon, emblem, symbol or nickname is patently offensive because it treats Indians in a patronizing way.''

Smith compared the situation to the past use of stereotypes about other racial groups, including black and Asian Americans.

``The mentality that treats Indians as novelties and second-class citizens leads to all sorts of mischief,'' he said.

Sapulpa Public Schools stopped using an Indian mascot years ago, but still uses the nickname ``Chieftains'' and the emblem of an Indian chief. Its American Indian parent group approves of the practice, said Deputy Superintendent Curtis Pitts.

Athletic teams for Northeastern State University in Tahlequah still go by the name Redmen, even though the school agreed to stop using all visual representations of the mascot.

University spokesman Neal Weaver said the school has no plans to change that policy unless students and alumni request it. Northeastern was originally a Cherokee institute of higher education.

At least one state university, Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, is reviewing its mascot name, the Savages. But President Glen Johnson said that decision was made before the commission's call for an end to Indian nicknames.

``We're looking at it in terms of definition and what best represents the long-term interests of the university,'' Johnson said.