November is Native American Heritage Month, and you, like seemingly every other Florida State University student, probably had no idea.
That is because despite being a school that revolves its culture around Native American language, imagery, and customs, FSU has not done a single thing this year to acknowledge the occasion.
A search through the FSU events calendar for the month won’t bring up any Registered Student Organization events related to Native American or Seminole heritage. The Student Life Cinema isn’t showing a single film, the Student Government Association isn’t holding any ceremonies, and no clubs are holding any sort of meetings about Native American traditions or history. Absolutely nothing.
In acknowledgement of this issue, the following is a list of only a portion of the other things we are doing wrong as a school that diminish not only Seminole heritage, but Native American heritage as whole. Featuring commentary from Joe Quetone, an FSU alumnus, member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, and former Executive Director of the Governor’s Board on Indian Affairs. Quetone is an activist for the understanding of the misappropriation of Native American culture, and recently spoke at a Native American Heritage Month event focusing on sports mascots at, not FSU, but Tallahassee Community College: Home of the Eagles.
Foremost, it is important to rebuke the argument that “FSU has the Seminole Tribe’s blessing.” The reality is that the people who gave that so-called blessing represent a miniscule fraction of the voices of the Seminole Nation.
The Seminole Tribe is made up of two divisions: The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma. The individuals who have consented to FSU’s continued use of the Seminoles as the school’s symbol are members of the Council of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has roughly 2,000 registered members.
However, this agreement is in stark contrast to the opinion of Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma, which has nearly 17,000 registered members. This more populous tribe has continuously voiced its opposition to FSU’s representation and use of the tribe’s heritage, stating in October 2013 that it “condemns the use of all American Indian sports-team mascots in the public school system, by [the] college and university level, and by professional sports teams.”
While we are the the ‘Florida State Seminoles’ and not the ‘Oklahoma Seminoles’, the name belongs to both parties. By population numbers, we only have permission from roughly 10.5 percent of the individuals who go by the name Seminole, and that is going off of the absurd assumption that each and every member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida is on board with their Tribal Council’s decision.
The motivation for the Council Seminole Tribe of Florida’s continued alliance with FSU despite its sister-tribe’s disapproval is thought to possibly lie in the economic returns it provides.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is known for its ownership of Hard Rock Casinos, now referred to as Seminole Hard Rock Casinos, and tribal members who were involved in that purchase have received enormously large profits since the acquisition in 2006.
In this line of logic, FSU’s use of the Seminole Tribe then provides a broad advertising platform for the Seminole brand and provides a medium for higher profits for the tribe’s casinos and related businesses, giving a potential reason as to why the Seminole Tribe of Florida may continue to agree to FSU’s use of their culture regardless of its controversial representation.
As an additional rebuttal to the ‘blessing’ argument, Quetone presented two more factors in FSU’s representation of the Seminoles.
First, he pointed out the fact that many of the practices FSU does to celebrate its Seminole persona are things that the Seminole Tribe never actually did. Much of the Native American culture we try to represent does not belong to the Seminole Tribe, but instead to other tribes who never granted FSU permission to use their imagery, clothing, or terminology – meaning that if the reason FSU is allowed to be the Seminoles is because we have the tribe’s permission, then we need to have permission from several other tribes as well.
Then, second, Quetone addressed the fact that many of FSU’s traditions take from Native American culture as a whole, and not just the culture of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. They’re modeled after things that all tribes do and hold near and dear to their hearts and heritage. Meaning that although the Seminole Tribe of Florida has granted their permission, the rest of the Native American world has not, and is wrongfully having their shared culture exploited without regard.
Osceola and Renegade
“By the way, Osceola was not a chief, he was a war leader in the Seminole Tribe. So, that’s the first thing that FSU got wrong,” stated Quetone at his event on November 9th.
Quetone attended FSU in the late sixties, when the school’s mascot was still “Savage Sam” or “Sammy the Seminole”: a cartoonish, circus-like representation of a stereotypical Native American, who was depicted by then FSU Men’s Gymnastics’ Chick Cicio.
Cicio would perform acrobatic stunts while adorned in a feather headdress and tasseled garb until he was retired in 1972, when FSU began their pursuit for a less offensive mascot.
Subsequently, FSU introduced Osceola and Renegade, who became the school’s mascot for the following four decades. In 2012 the school then introduced “Cimarron”, an anthropomorphic horse, as its technical mascot, and began to then refer to the Seminoles and Osceola and Renegade as the school’s ‘symbols’.
Chief Osceola, as FSU wrongly refers to him, was in fact only a war leader in the Seminole Tribe. “Chief” is not actually even a term that Native Americans used, but instead was a term that colonists created in order to give some reference to the leadership they were battling against.
Nevertheless, Osceola is now represented in FSU’s advertising and at football games by one student, currently junior Brendan Carter, who applies to partake in extensive equestrian training for the job in exchange for an academic scholarship to the school.
The innate problem with this personification is that Carter, like a presumable majority of his predecessors, is a white male, who in FSU’s representation of Osceola is sent out wearing a black wig and tan-colored makeup designed to make him look more alike an actual Native American. In other words: brownface.
“My problem is it’s kind of like having somebody come out in blackface, you know, it’s just not a thoughtful thing to do,” stated Quetone on the matter. “What are you thinking about how other people feel?”
Furthermore, another issue to note with the current portrayal of Osceola is his use of the flaming spear.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida did not use spears in warfare, and only occasionally used small fishing spears to catch food within their Everglades homes, making Osceola’s use of a spear, mid warchant, while aflame, a drastic misappropriation. Using spears as weaponry during battle was a practice of mainly Plains Indian tribes, and therefore something that FSU has not been granted permission to use.
The Warchant and Tomahawk Chop
As for warchants, the Seminole Tribe of Florida certainly has them, but Quetone argues that the use of the term is disrespectful nonetheless.
Throughout all Native American tribes, warchants are spiritual, ritualistic songs made in commemoration of certain events or people. According to Quetone, “Warchant, again, that’s really offensive. Our songs are hymns, a lot of times they’re family songs that are made in honor of a particular family member. You know, I certainly wouldn’t want my grandfather’s song being misused in that way.” – meaning they’re not something students should claim to be singing while plastered in the middle of Doak Stadium.
As for the arm-swinging hoorah done throughout every FSU football game, “The Tomahawk Chop,” Quetone made his position clear, stating, “[The Florida Seminoles] certainly didn’t use tomahawks. So, the chop’s got to go.”
While the Student Government Association has taken action to rectify this one, it is important to understand what we were doing wrong.
Headdresses, war bonnets, and feathers are sacred apparel in Native American culture, where each feather contributed to the piece must be earned by those who get to wear them.
As Quetone puts it, “A war bonnet is not a toy and it’s not a fun thing, and wearing feathers is a terrible insult to those of us who are from those tribes who wear war bonnets. Not every tribe that is in the United States wore war bonnets. Seminoles didn’t wear war bonnets, that has nothing at all to do with the Seminole people.”
Thus, headdresses are not only disrespectful to wear without warrant, but are yet another case of stealing other tribe’s culture as well, since the headdresses typically worn by fans typically model those worn by the Sioux Tribe – not the Florida Seminoles.
SGA casted its famous vote to make headdresses in violation of the Student Code of Conduct in 2016, subsequently banning them from being worn inside of athletic events, with 27 senators in favor and 9 against or abstaining. However, SGA and the school can still not punish a student from wearing them otherwise.
Additionally, several relics on campus, most notably the Integration Statue, feature individuals wearing these headdresses who never had any right to. Obviously this is something literally set in stone, but seeing as it’s Native American Heritage Month acknowledging these faults is all the more important.
“How many people that go to any kind of football game know anything about a mascot? What do you know about the life of bears? Mountain lions? Cougars?” Quetone stated. “And you know even less about those based on native people.”
What is perhaps most important to recognize in our wrongs is how thoroughly we’ve failed to be educated on the culture we depend on for our school’s identity.
Although FSU has began to introduce classes focussing on Native American and Seminole history, there is still a lacking awareness on campus of those options, and an absent desire for those who know about them to take advantage of them.
Furthermore, all facets of the school, from the administration to the student body, need to be more conscientious of opportunities to recognize Native American history and heritage, such as Native American Heritage Month. Missing such apparent, scheduled occasions is otherwise senseless and too easy of a fix to excuse.
But, beyond November, it is important for each of us as students to take steps to be better.
Take AMH 2583, The Seminoles and the Southeastern Indians, so that you can dedicate even a miniscule fraction of your education to the people FSU revolves around every day. Do research on the Seminole Tribe of Florida and learn about its history, traditions, and modern day life. Attend events hosted by real Native Americans, meaning not FSU’s Pow Wow, and actually witness the traditions and art forms we’ve mimicked.
And in 2018 , have your club, group of friends, class, anything, do something to acknowledge Native American Heritage Month and to celebrate the people we are all in-debt to.
One of Quetone’s final words on the matter was “Everyone wants to be Native, but they don’t want to go through the struggle.”
Hopefully Florida State University can reevaluate the ways in which we can honor the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Native American culture as a whole more respectfully than we do now.