Interest Convergence, FSU, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida

January 22, 2013 — 42 Comments

Chief_Osceola_Renegade

Live and learn. I guess the “quick post” model failed–you should see my inbox. Guys, I know the Seminole Tribe of Florida has worked with FSU and offered their approval of the mascot and associated images. I know quite a bit about the relationship, actually, and I’ve been learning quite a bit more in the last day or so…thanks to the strongly worded responses from some passionate FSU fans.

Quick background:

Florida State has been the “Seminoles” since 1947, and have had a “relationship” with the Seminole Tribe of Florida for many years, but it was solidified more recently. In 2005, the NCAA passed a resolution, calling Native American Mascots “hostile and abusive,” and prohibiting schools with these mascots from hosting post-season events. The Seminole Tribe of Florida then officially gave their permission to use Osceola as the mascot, letting FSU get a waiver from the NCAA rule.

Disclaimer, and a big one–I am not Seminole, and I don’t want to speak for the tribe. I am offering my interpretation and perspective, but it’s just mine. I am going to be up front and say that I don’t agree with the choice to give the university permission to mock Native culture (see the billboard and video I posted earlier), and I don’t find a “stoic” dude in a wig and redface throwing a flaming spear “honoring” (see photo above), and I definitely don’t think that the “war chant” is respectful in any way. In fact I find it quite “hostile and abusive.”

I do want to put the decision of the tribe into context, however. From what I understand, prior to the formalized relationship with the tribe in the 1970′s, the image of the university was not Osceola (who is a real person, in case you didn’t know. Though the image is the profile of a white faculty member), but a stereotypical mis-mash named “Sammy Seminole” who was accompanied by “Chief Fullabull,” both of whom wore cartoonish and stereotypical outfits and clowned around at games. Trying to be more “sensitive” they changed “Fullabull” to “Chief Wampumstompum.” I’m not kidding. Osceola and Renegade (the horse) were introduced in the late 70′s.

So, by entering into a relationship with the university, the mascot now represents an actual Seminole figure, and wears (close to) traditional Seminole regalia, made by tribal members. In addition to control and “collaboration” over how the image is used and portrayed, I’ve heard the tribe gets a cut of the merchandising profits, which I’m sure is no small amount of money. The president of the university also established full scholarships for Seminole students (though only 8 Seminole students have graduated in the history of the school), a Seminole color guard brings in the flag at commencement, and the tribe was recently honored at homecoming. The Seminole of FL are also one of the most successful gaming tribes in the US, and my personal opinion is that keeping the state happy on the FSU front can only be good for relations around gaming contracts.

In summary, while the mascot is far from being respectful in my opinion, at least the tribe is gaining both economic and social benefits from engaging in this relationship. At least, at the games, as the student section is tomahawk chopping and yelling “scalp ‘em”, they can look down at the field and see a real Seminole every once and awhile to counter the image of Osceola. But is it perfect? Of course not. In a lot of ways it is similar to Derrick Bell’s theory of Interest Convergence–the idea that whites will only consent to racial progress when it benefits them directly–but turned around. The tribe is consenting to this, because they benefit directly. The interests of the two parties converge.

But the hard thing about FSU is that it always gives fodder to the mascot defenders. “But the Seminole approve of Florida State!  They don’t care!” Hopefully I’ve made a bit of a case as to why they’ve consented to have their image used, but I also want to point out that just because one faction of a marginalized group believes one thing, it doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Can you imagine if we expected all white folks to feel the same about a controversial issue…like gun control, for example? Not gonna happen. I also think that it ties back into the dilemma I’ve brought up again and again–is it better to be completely invisible as Native people, or be misrepresented? In the case of the Seminole tribe of Florida, they took the step to at least try and gain some control and power over how their people and community are represented.

Coming back to the billboard that I posted last week, here is the (unsolicited) response I received from the university:

Hi Adrienne,
I work in Florida State University’s Office of University Communications. We’ve become aware of your recent blog post about several of Florida State University’s recent promotions which include Seminole imagery and symbols — and appreciate your concern.  However, we wanted to take this opportunity to make sure you were aware that the relationship between Florida State and the Seminole Tribe of Florida is one of mutual respect.
In 2005, the tribe passed a resolution supporting the university’s use of the Seminole name, logos and images, including Osceola and Renegade. This was recognition of Florida State’s continued collaboration with the tribe, including prominent participation by tribal members in many of the university’s most meaningful events, and our seeking advice and direction to ensure tribal imagery is authentic.
Simply put, Florida State University is humbled and honored by the privilege of representing a group of people whose courage and spirit we admire and respect. Through the years, our administrators have made it clear the university will not engage in any activity that does not have the approval of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
We hope this background is helpful. Please feel free to write me back if you have any questions.

The word “authentic” in there gave me pause–are they actually arguing that painting a red and yellow stripe of “warpaint” on a non-Native lady is “authentic”? And the language of the letter just feels weird to me–”a group of people whose courage and spirit we admire and respect”? It just feels like a slippery slope and super gray area between “respect” and romanticization.

If anyone knows more and wants to correct my FSU/Seminole facts, please feel free in the comments!

UPDATE: Check out this awesome resource pulled together by Rob Schmidt of Blue Corn Comics/Newspaper Rock–offers more history, counter-arguments, quotes from news articles and Native scholars, and more:
Why FSU’s Seminoles aren’t ok

Earlier: New Billboard for Florida State’s MBA Program

(Thanks Steph for the FSU background, and Carly for asking a great question about this last night that got me thinking!)

Adrienne K.

Posts

  • pam hudson

    A- Thanks for your insightful posts, as always.  Yes, I am an avid follower of your blog; that said, in the back of my mind, as an FSU law graduate, I always think of that symbiotic relationship.  I feel conflicted  - I do know members of the tribe do have a relationship with FSU and know that Florida State takes its relationship seriously – especially the consultation portion.  But, still – it does represent a violent image of native americans, overall. 

    Of note, I am a environmental attorney (and that intersects with several cultural and historical protection laws) – I do wish I took more of the seminar courses offered at the law school dealing specifically with native american law – - I feel that I missed out on that. 

    Thanks again for your well-written and thoughtful posts!

  • http://twitter.com/PhillipCody Phillip C. Marshall

    Great post! I saw images of those ridiculous billboards last week, and my immediate thought was that this is a significant consequence of the Seminole Tribe of Florida buddying-up with FSU.  I’m curious to know what the official stance of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma would be on this topic; if I remember correctly, they were none too thrilled with SToF selling out Osceola to FSU. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/robschmidt Rob Schmidt

    I wrote about some of the same issues here:

    http://www.bluecorncomics.com/seminole.htm

    The warpaint, spear, horse, and name (Osceola wasn’t a chief) are all phony.  

    The Seminole Tribe’s approval conveys one of two things.  Either these items AREN’T stereotypical, according to the tribe, or they ARE stereotypical but the tribe doesn’t care.  Those are two very different positions to take.  

    Until the tribe explains how these items aren’t stereotypical, it’s safe to assume they are.  That means they’re causing the same harm as every other one-dimensional “savage” stereotype.  The tribe’s approval doesn’t change that.

    The other Seminole tribes in Florida and Oklahoma haven’t given FSU a pass.  I don’t think we need to either.  If something is false or stereotypical, it’s wrong, period.

    • Adrienne_K

      Rob, I should have known you would have something on this issue–what an awesome resource! I’m going to add it to the bottom of the post. Totally on point and offers a lot more depth than I was able to!

      Thanks. 

  • http://njwv.wordpress.com/ manyfaces

    They have an agreement with a specific tribe. If they start to do things which feel too “all look same” they deserve to get called on it. “We have an agreement” is not carte blanche to be racist.

  • http://peterstanton.blogspot.com/ Peter Stanton

    I think I would only start to have respect for FSU if they started to develop and implement curricula that would teach Seminole language, history, and traditions. If the students there are really going to be “the Seminoles,” they should start learning some of “their” heritage.

    Apparently there are only 200 speakers of the Muscogee language left in Florida today, (according to Wikipedia), so if FSU directed resources toward preserving that linguistic heritage and exposing a significant amount of the student body to it, that could be a really positive step.

    • http://twitter.com/apologos Abram Guerra

      THIS!

      If you respect and admire the culture so much, how about a billboard promoting programs that directly benefit and/or preserve that culture… Those kinds of programs/courses aren’t the cash cow that an MBA program is though…….

    • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

      As a former FSU student, I will tell you that there is 1 course on the Seminoles. That’s it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000542697945 Rain Stand

    its a damn pay off simple as that

  • http://twitter.com/beyondbuckskin Jessica R. Metcalfe

    “is it better to be completely invisible as Native people, or be misrepresented?” – You know I’m going to say that being misrepresented is the same as being invisible :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001596534825 Entre Aguas

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001596534825 Entre Aguas

    Hello Adrienne. Thank you so much for writing this. I am a alumni from FSU (c/o 2005) and former President of the American Indian Student Union (AISU). Some things to point our…

    - In the early-mid 1990s a group of various Native students fought hard to create the predecessor to AISU, NASA- Native American Student Association. During this time students organized a formal proposal to the University of creating a muli-department Native American Studies Program. The program would require hiring one additional proffesor to head up the program, this person would have been the only Native faculty at FSU. The university offered an amount for tenure that was insultingly low to this individual and the proposal has been stagnant/dead ever since.

    - In the USA exist all these entities that culturally and historically are the same peoples- The Seminole Tribe of Florida Incorporated, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, the Independent Traditionalist Seminole Nation and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Only the first has a relationship with FSU, the others have either voiced opposition to the mascot or have not said anything (ie- Miccosukees).

    I know there is more it is just not coming to me right now. 

    • rauker

       This comment I think really speaks to what I have always seen as the heart of the problem with this whole “the Seminole say it’s okay, so it must be okay” thing.  What real right does THIS group of Seminole have to speak for all people who call themselves Seminole?  For that matter, the tomahawk chops, the comments on “scalping”, etc. are all slurs and misrepresentations thrown at ALL Native people – what right does one Seminole government have to encourage behaviors that effect us all.

  • Eddie Dane

    How much money and how many scholarships have any of you donated to any Native Americans?  How many of you volunteer at soup kitchens or clean up parks for that matter?  Do any of you actually perform actions that make the world better or are you all talk?  Do you just blog and comment online and then pat yourself on the back for being so sensitive?  

    “Everybody wants to save the world but nobody wants to help mom with the dishes.” 

    • FOREST RANGER

      Yes, every Native American like to go on blogs and discuss Native American issues.

      Anyway, various tribes do what can be done to develop the people and the reservation lands: some people go to college, some participate in politics, some open up casinos for revenue, some become teachers for primary and secondary schools, and more.

      Since this blog continues to exist, there is an issue that drives it to persist.

      • Eddie Dane

        Nothing wrong with this issue or having an opinion, we just live in a world where people “like” a cause on Facebook and then consider their work done.  I like to ask what concrete measures people are taking.  Not picking on this issue, I always do it.

        • FOREST RANGER

          Since this is the internet, many people could be seeing this and simply agreeing with it and enforcing a Native American ethnic identity, civil rights for more people, and other stuff. But they’d mostly be agreeing with it. That’s common.

          However…

          There seems to be some people who take valuable lessons from this blog, particularly for some people who deal with issues concerning relations to non-Native Americans. At least two of them can be seen on the comments following the latest post.

          As for concrete measures, I can only name a few for Southwest tribes, but I’m too tired to put it out at the moment.

          • Eddie Dane

            Nice to hear.  Thanks for your civility. 

  • Kelley Scudder

    The prevailing argument seems to be that as long as tribal council approves then it is acceptable to portray Seminoles, particularly a historic figure, through this mascot. Unfortunately, this does not take into consideration of Seminoles who are not on tribal council. No matter how you look at it this is racist pure and simple. The ‘Tribe’ doesn’t just consist of those who negotiate with FSU officials. 

    • Eddie Dane

      You need to use a different term besides “racist” for these situations.  What Hank Aaron went through was racist.  Bull Conner was racist.  James Byrd died because of racism.  Football mascots are not equal to anything like that, so when you try to put them on the same level, you water down racism and it’s meaning.  Try “racially insensitive” instead.

      • Jon Pawson

        Classic. You are classic, Eddie. “Classically what?” Classically idiotic. It’s only racist if the racism is directed towards African-Americans? Because all three of your examples above are racism directed towards African-Americans.

        Or do you mean to say you believe it’s only racism if physical violence is involved?

        You’re such a classic, Eddie.

        • Eddie Dane

          Miss the point much?  It’s the actions that matter, not who the victims are.  How’s this?  Margaret Sanger wanting to control the reproduction of “dysgenic races” such as Native Americans is racism.  A football mascot that offends you, not so much.  Is that a better example for you?  History is ripe with examples of real racism that put mascots in their proper place.  Feel free to be offended by them all you want, but don’t think they are on the same level.  Racism is like “love” or “genius”.  People use the word incorrectly so much it loses its real meaning.

          • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

            Let me guess, you’re white?

            If so, you have no frame of reference for what is/isn’t racist. So don’t run around telling people who experience it on a daily basis what it is. That simple.

            • FOREST RANGER

              Hey now, opinions can be valuable (unless it’s just unwarranted bashing). It’s good to have opinions from two sides, so that we have something worthy to reflect upon in the future ;)

              • Eddie Dane

                Thanks.  You sound like my kind of person.

              • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                The opinion of someone who has no experience on the subject is not valuable. 

                • Eddie Dane

                  And you say that I have no experience based on what exactly?  Do we know each other?  Grow up together?  Date? Or are you just judging away based on nothing but your own prejudicial beliefs?

                • Eddie Dane

                  “It is not prejudiced or insensitive to acknowledge reality. ”

                  I’ve heard a lot of racists say that exact same thing.

                  • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                    Racism is defined by social scientists as the “culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages the dominant culture has because of the subordinated position of racial/ethnic minorities.” Given that you’re a part of the dominant culture, having no patience for your dismissal of the legitimate concerns of Native people isn’t helping maintain the dominant culture, it actually does the exact opposite. 

                    • Eddie Dane

                      Once again, you don’t know my culture, gender, nationality, favorite food, etc…  Not all people of color think the same way.  If I may quote the very blog you are on:  ” just because one faction of a marginalized group believes one thing, it doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. Can you imagine if we expected all white folks to feel the same about a controversial issue?”  An issue like, say, whether the word racism is overused?  

                      Maybe you should take that up with Adrienne.

                    • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                      That doesn’t change the fact that you were dismissing the fully legitimate concerns of Native peoples.

                    • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e
            • Eddie Dane

              And if I’m not white?   That not simple?

              • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                Your experiences are limited by your race. Again, you have no frame of reference, so leave the discussion to the people actually affected by the issue.

                • Eddie Dane

                  Please enlighten my on what my experiences are, since you know so much about me.   You still don’t know what race I am.  Or if I’m a man or a woman.  Or handicapped. Or anything else that would affect my “frame of reference”. 

                  If I agreed with you, you wouldn’t be worried about any “frame of reference”, would you?  All you want to hear is “yes, you are right”.  So much for intellectual debate.

                  • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                    Based on your comments. Only white people have the gall to try and tell PoC what is and isn’t racism. 

                    • Eddie Dane

                      That’s kind of a racist comment, isn’t it?  Or racially insensitive, at the very least.

                      Well, you could have talked to me and won me over, but instead you want me to be quiet and not interrupt the comfort of your Groupthink.  I hate to make you uncomfortable by offering different opions, so I’ll stop.

                    • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                      It is not prejudiced or insensitive to acknowledge reality. 

                      I have no desire to win you over. And yes, I do want you to be quiet. White people have been derailing the conversation on racism for decades. It’s about time you sit down and listen.

              • disqus_PvE4wA3Z4e

                Based on your comments. Only white people have the gall to try and tell PoC what is and isn’t racism. 

  • Robert Miles

    Thank you Adrienne, this is much better!

  • http://twitter.com/listenGfs Nadia

    Adrienne, one of my students brought this up in class this past summer and I wish I had this post back then! But he brought up the same point, which is just because a small group of people or leaders approve of an action, doesn’t necessarily mean that they speak for the entire group of people they are supposedly representing…

  • FOREST RANGER

    Why exactly is the university so obsessed with having the Seminole group represent the college and its sports? Is it just a university tradition that refuses to let go or change? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if the citizen’s relationship to with the tribal government body is similar to that of the Navajo Nation’s. But hey, more power to the tribe I guess.