Regents vote to retire Indian, Otahkian Nickname
Southeast Missouri State University will be the Redhawks in spring 2005 after the Board of Regents Wednesday voted unanimously to retire with dignity the long-time “Indian” and “Otahkian” Southeast athletic team nicknames.
During a lengthy presentation in the Show Me Center, representatives of various constituent groups spoke in favor of the change.
Don Kaverman, Southeast director of athletics, said, the nickname is a branding issue important in positioning Southeast in the market and garnering media attention.
Kaverman told that board that schools with Indian nicknames are coming under increasing scrutiny from the NCAA. He said 70 percent of high school and collegiate teams with Indian nicknames have changed their name in the last few years. Several institutions in the NCAA, including the University of Iowa, will no longer compete against teams with Indian nicknames, he said.
“It is in the best long-term interest of our athletics program and the University,” he said. “We need to re-engage our students in our athletic program. I think this can be a very positive change for this University.”
John Tlapek, a member of the Board of Regents from Cape Girardeau, agreed.
“We need a visible symbol we can promote,” he said.
Harry Rediger, vice president of the Booster Club, told the Board that the past several months of debate on the issue have had little impact on the Booster Club’s successful fund-raising efforts.
“The time for rhetoric is over,” Rediger said. “The time for change is now.”
Mike Price, vice president of the Alumni Association, an alumnus of Southeast and a former Southeast football player, said, he supports a new name “that will stand the test of time.” He added that “the students of today have not been exposed to traditions of the past.”
Glinda Ladd Seabaugh, president of the American Indian Center of the Heartland, said “Most Native Americans don’t feel honored by the name. It’s a mockery. Most Indian people feel it’s time for a change.”
The “Indian” nickname for athletic teams evolved at Southeast Missouri State Teachers College in 1922, although no official board action was taken on the name, said Board president Donald Dickerson of Cape Girardeau. He said Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History, and Art Wallhausen, associate to the president, researched historical records and could find no official action on the matter.
The use of Indian mascots at Southeast was discontinued in the mid-1980s after many American Indian groups throughout the nation expressed displeasure at the depiction of caricatures of Native American individuals and culture at athletic events. Since that time, while retaining the “Indian” and “Otahkian” nicknames, the University experimented for brief periods with costumed mascots not related specifically to the team nicknames. But for the past decade, Southeast athletic teams have not been supported by any mascot.
Kenneth W. Dobbins, president of Southeast Missouri State University appointed an ad hoc committee in February to study the issue and make recommendations. Dr. Ed Leoni, professor of health, human performance and recreation and the University’s faculty academic representative to the NCAA, chaired the committee.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Leoni presented an overview of the committee’s work over the past several months, and Dr. Judy Wiles, professor of marketing, presented the results of an internet-based random sample survey of alumni and students to determine the attitudes of these groups on the issue.
Edward “Ned” Matthews III, a member of the Board of Regents from Sikeston, Mo., said he would like to see the “Indian” retired with dignity, perhaps in a ceremony in which the Indian introduces the Redhawk.
“I would like to see some transition,” he said.
Sandy Moore, a member of the Board of Regents from St. Louis, said, the selection of a new nickname offers the opportunity to build unity in the community.
Leoni reiterated to the Board on several occasions that a change would be bittersweet. This process of change and mending fences is going to take years.
“The Indian has served us and represented us so well,” he said, “but the sweetness comes in thinking about what tomorrow can bring.”
Leoni showed the Regents possible Redhawks logos, but said they were only possibilities that will be refined in the months ahead.
For more information the Nickname/Mascot issue, visit http://www2.semo.edu/urelations/mascot/.