Relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida
A Tradition of Tribute
The Seminole Tribe of Florida are a courageous, tenacious and determined people who, against great odds, have struggled successfully to preserve their culture and to live their lives according to their traditions and beliefs. As history shows, they are a people who have resolutely refused to accept defeat, whether at the hands of the U.S. military or when faced with the unforgiving wilderness of the Florida Everglades.
For nearly seven decades, Florida State University has proudly identified itself with this heroic tribe. The name "Florida State Seminoles" was selected by vote of the university's student body in 1947, shortly after FSU became a coeducational institution and re-established a football team. The name was selected specifically to honor the indomitable spirit of the Florida Seminoles — those people whom the Seminole Tribe of Florida refers to as the "few hundred unconquered Seminole men, women and children left — all hiding in the swamps and Everglades of South Florida." FSU's use of the name honors the strength and bravery of these people, who never surrendered and ultimately persevered.
In recent years, critics have complained that the use of all Native American names and symbols — by FSU and other universities, as well as by professional athletic teams — is "culturally hostile" or "offensive." Unfortunately, in some cases such names and symbols have in fact been misused and become derogatory. At FSU, however, we have worked diligently for 40 years to ensure that our representations of Seminole imagery bring only honor to the Seminole people.
In FSU's early years, Native American imagery and mascots were heavily influenced by the Hollywood version of the American Indians, and often bore little or no resemblance to the Seminole Indians of Florida. It would take several decades for attitudes to evolve, and for the university to fully appreciate the importance of its symbols. As time passed, however, FSU's mascots adopted more and more aspects of the Florida Seminole tribe, and were presented in a more respectful manner.
In the 1950s and '60s, Native American images used at FSU were adapted from the Indians of the Plains region. Elaborate, feathered war bonnets — some so long they touched the floor — were common, and prominently adorned the Homecoming Queen each year. They were elegant and colorful, but were nothing like headdresses worn by Florida Seminoles. (Historically, Florida Seminole men wore a simple turban with a single, or just a couple, of plumed feathers tucked into the back.)
The war bonnet was not the only characteristic that FSU organizations and fans borrowed from Plains Indian culture. Supporters also appeared in mohawks and loincloths. They built huge teepees and made references to wig-wams and tom-toms.
In addition, in the early years, American Indian images were often portrayed in a cartoonish fashion. FSU mascots from Sammy Seminole to Chief Fullabull were more slapstick than respectful in nature to the people they claimed to represent.
Where did FSU students and fans get the idea to use such stereotypical characteristics? During the 1950s, FSU students and fans, like the American public in general, had a limited image of Native Americans. The image was mostly painted by Hollywood. Television taught America how Indians looked, how they talked, and how they lived. For example, children learned about Indians through Saturday morning cartoons. The bare-chested red man with the potbelly and the big nose wore a feathered war bonnet and a loincloth. He greeted others by crossing his arms in front of his chest, nodding his head and saying "How." These were, indeed, naïve perceptions.
FSU students began to debate their use of the Seminole name as early as 1957, when the first horses and Indian riders appeared during Homecoming festivities. Questions were raised about the stereotypical representation of the tribe. Students complained about the misrepresentation of the Florida Seminoles and about the imagery borrowed from Plains Indians. It was suggested that many such images might be offensive to the Florida Seminole Indians.
An Improved Understanding
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FSU's campus became a learning ground with regard to the Florida Seminole Indians. Several key people were directly responsible for the new awareness. Joyotpaul "Joy" Chaudhuri, an American Indian expert and FSU professor of political science, and his wife, Jean, an American Indian activist, came to the university during this period. They helped establish an American Indian Fellowship at FSU. This influential group led the campus and the community toward a better understanding of Native Americans in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. The group was instrumental in mediating between the university and the Florida Seminole Indians. There were several meetings between the two, and problems were addressed to the satisfaction of both. As a result, FSU retired certain images that were offensive to the tribe, and began consulting with the tribe regularly on all such matters.
By the late 1970s, FSU's campus, like the rest of country, had become more educated about Indians in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. Along with this new understanding came major changes in the university's mascots. It became very important to portray the university's namesake with dignity and honor, and to do it with the graces of the Florida Seminole tribe. This attitude culminated in a mutual respect between the two institutions, and further tied their futures to one another.
Osceola and Renegade
In 1978, FSU embarked upon a new tradition — one that had the full endorsement of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Seminole warrior riding a horse, to become known as Osceola and Renegade, was introduced at FSU home football games, and soon became one of the most enduring and beloved symbols of the university.
In the early 1990s, activists began to show up at FSU football games to protest the use of the Seminole name. Blistering speeches were given. Several times, the debate became heated. An Oklahoma Seminole Indian, Mike Haney, began to make frequent statements threatening to file human-rights complaints against FSU if it did not discontinue the use of the Seminole name and imagery. Throughout these attacks, the Seminole Tribe of Florida remained supportive of FSU and its use of the Seminole name and images. Later, Chief Jerry Haney of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma added his support to FSU as well.
For more than 30 years, FSU has worked closely with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure the dignity and propriety of the various Seminole symbols used by the university. The university's goal is to be a model community that treats all cultures with dignity while celebrating diversity.