In an ironic twist, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee has ordered the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, a school founded for the Lumbee Indians, to explain why it still uses the "racially offensive" logo of an Indian and the "Braves" nickname for its athletic teams.
"If anyone’s earned the right to use the Indian logo, it’s UNC-Pembroke," alum Bruce Barton, who co-authored a book on the region’s Native American basketball league, said. "For a long time we were the only 4-year university in the world for Native America. I think the name is very apropos."
UNC-Pembroke was originally called the Croatan Normal School and was founded in 1887 after the Lumbee Tribe -- the largest tribe east of the Mississippi tribe with 87,000 members descended from the Cheraw Sioux-speaking tribe -- petitioned the North Carolina Assembly for a school. At first, the school consisted only of elementary and secondary levels meant to train Native America school teachers. College classes were eventually added over the years and the school began awarding baccalaureate degrees in 1940, which is when the school adopted the Braves nickname and Indian mascot.
Lumbee Tribal Chairman Milton R. Hunt, who "was very surprised by the letter," said
"the Lumbees don’t want the NCAA to meddle with this."
"To us, [the logo and nickname are] a part of the university’s name, just an extension of that, and the Lumbees would consider it an insult if it were changed," the tribe’s chairman said, adding that "the NCAA could’ve done a little investigation beforehand. They would’ve seen that it’s part of the Lumbee identity … and that the Lumbee tribe supports it."
UNC-Pembroke Athletic Director Dan Kenny agreed and also dismissed the NCAA’s "idea that if anyone uses Native American imagery it’s got to be wrong."
"It’s a very important part of our founding," he said. "No other school … was founded for Native Americans. We don’t have to have you (the NCAA) tell us what’s offensive."
Besides getting rid of their Indian logo and nickname, Kenny said much of "what the NCAA recommends" the school should do to create a less racially hostile environment for Native Americans, such as class offerings and hiring Native Americans, "are already in place." He noted that many Lumbees are chancellors, board members or university staff as well as students and emphasized the Lumbees continued involvement with the school since its inception. In fact, the school has an American Indian Studies department and a Native American museum preserves Indian heritage for coming generations, including exhibits on Indian arts and crafts; Indian language, music, literature and heroes; as well as video biographies of courageous Native American veterans from WWII.
Due to the school’s rich heritage, UNC-Pembroke Chancellor Dr. Allen Meadors vowed to defend the school’s ties to the Lumbees.
"We’re going to fight this because it is not appropriate for the NCAA to order us to remove it because the American Indians cherish having the brave emblem" since it "honors their history with this institution," Meadors said, and symbolizes their "integrity, courage and the ability to overcome all odds."
"It’s political correctness run amok," he said.
Telephone calls seeking comment from NCAA were not returned before press time.
The main catalyst behind the NCAA campaign against UNC-Pembroke’s Indian mascot and nickname is former University of California-Davis professor and current St. Cloud State University President Roy Hirofumi Saigo.
Saigo, who is one of the NCAA’s Division II chief executive officers, began championing the cause against Indian mascots after the California based Alliance Against Racial Mascots (ALLARM) launched an "Indians Are People Not Mascots" letter writing campaign in March 2001. ALLARM argued that the continued portrayal of Indians in the "role of warrior" teaches Native American and non-Indians "to tolerate racism," which contributes to the continued, "systematic genocide" of Indians through stereotyping.
Once the former WWII internment camp prisoner’s "fires of resentment" were stirred, he began lobbying NCAA officials to adopt a resolution that would encourage member schools to eliminate use of American Indian nicknames and mascots.
Then in April 2001, Saigo’s campaign gained a valuable ally -- the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Immediately after the USCCR promptly issued a formal statement calling for "the elimination of American Indian mascots, logos, team names and nicknames" from all schools and educational institutions, the NCAA’s MOIC Indian mascot elimination committee was formed -- despite the fact that only 75% of Native Americans polled by Peter Harris Research Group for Sports Illustrated said that use of Native American team names and mascots do not contribute to discrimination against Indians. (www.ncaa.org/news/2002/20020401/active/3907n02.html.)
Although Saigo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he would make sure that the NCAA mascot effort was going "to present the facts" about the negative effects of Indian mascots, Saigo told the "NCAA News" a different story, saying that the NCAA’s effort "should not be overly affected by the research."
"I don't dispute that a segment of Native Americans are indifferent to or accept the use of Indian nicknames and mascots," Saigo said. "But I believe that if only a fraction are offended or feel degraded by the practice -- 23 percent according to the survey -- that's still thousands of individuals, and their point of view should be taken seriously. Remember Dr. Martin Luther King's famous quote: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' "
UNC-Pembroke must make their case to the NCAA by Jan. 24. The NCAA MIOC committee will then make its final report to the executive committee in April 2004.