Inside the Newsroom

News, commentary, insight on local happenings and fun from the staff of The Saline Reporter and Milan News-Leader.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A reflection on Native American imagery in sports in Milan

The "Flying C" replaced a spear and feather on the helmets at Central
Michigan University years ago. Although the jerseys look different
now, it's still a sharp-looking logo. (Courtesy photo)

What's in a nickname?

What does it symbolize? Does it symbolize the fight and tenacity of an athletic team or school? Does it represent something else?

Flashbacks of my college days came as this story out of Milan was published, discussing the call to end the use of Native American imagery for the Big Reds.
I graduated from Central Michigan University in 2010.

Our nickname, of course, was the Chippewas, a nod to the area Native American tribe, although the term "Ojibwe" is more accurate in description of the tribe. Living near and visiting the nearby reservation, home to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, educated me greatly on Native culture, and what it means to be a living among a Native community. Growing up in suburban Detroit, I had never met a Native American person, nor did I give it much thought until 2005.

In 2005, the NCAA began its crackdown of schools using Native American imagery. Many schools began changing their nicknames and logos, taking out the Native American imagery and replacing it. Some schools, such as CMU, received waivers because of their relationship with the local tribes and their approval of the name. One of the last schools to hold out, North Dakota, is currently in the midst of removing the imagery from its campus.

Now, "approval" means the tribal council has approved it; it doesn't mean the complete tribe approves. The subject came up of changing the nickname at least once a year, and of course it was always shot down and no steps were ever take to change the name.
Before attending college, I wasn't against using Native American imagery. I compared it to schools such as Alma and Rochester Adams, which use "Highlanders" as a mascot. I found no offense in that term, as I hold mostly Scottish blood.

But my views changed. I met Native people and heard their case. CMU has students go through orientation sessions when they arrive on campus with local tribal officials on proper use of the nickname in how to honor the tribe and its people. And it stuck with me. 

How does this pertain to Milan? Mostly just to point out this happens elsewhere. CMU axed the Native American imagery decades ago, and has a strict policy on students attending athletic events in Native American wear (Namely, they don't allow it. At all. Show up in it, and they ask you to leave).

Students still attend football games, although barely in recent years, and they still have a great time and love their school. I'm certain students will still do the same after all traces of Native American lore are gone from football helmets, banners and signs.

Of course several factors go into making a decision such as this, and the district has said they are working to phase out the use of images such as a spear and feathers. I'm just here to offer my observations from someone who has observed this issue firsthand. 

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