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The Removal of the Indian Mascot of Stanford

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Every  year at the time of the Big Game you are very likely to hear some of Stanford's pre-Cardinal alumni reminiscing of days gone by when the mascot was an "Indian."   They reminisce about an Indian mascot that they were forced to give up--the Stanford mascot they wish they could have kept.  Folks might even look at you expecting you to understand the mascot's history, and maybe feel guilty that it was taken from them, and perhaps promise to change your mind and give it back. Just what is the story about the Indian mascot at Stanford anyway?

The "Indian" became the mascot for Stanford's athletic teams in 1930 and continued as such through 1970, its most common manifestation being a caricature of a small Indian with a big nose.  In November of 1970 a group of Native presented to the acting Dean of Students a petition objecting to another incarnation of the Indian mascot, the live performances over 19 years at athletic events by Timm Williams, or Prince Lightfoot.  The students believed the performances to be a mockery of Indian religious practices.  In January 1971, the Native American students met with University President Lyman to discuss the end of the mascot performances.  This first collective action established SAIO as a newly-formed organization in the Stanford community. 

In February of 1972, 55 Native American students and staff at Stanford presented a petition to the University Ombudsperson who, in turn, presented it to President Lyman.  The 1972 petition urged that "the use of the Indian symbol be permanently discontinued"--and further urged that the University "fulfill its promise to the students of its Native American Program by improving and supporting the program and thereby making its promise to improve Native American education a reality."  The petition further stated that the Stanford community was not sensitive to the humanity of Native Americans, that the lack of understanding displayed by the name of a race being placed on its entertainment, and that a race of humans cannot be entertainment.  The mascot in all its manifestations was, the Indian group maintained, stereotypical, offensive, and a mockery of Indian cultures.  The group suggested that the "University would be renouncing a grotesque ignorance that it has previously condoned" by removing the Indian as Stanford's symbol, and by "retracting its misuse of the Indian symbol" Stanford would be displaying a "readily progressive concern for the American Indians of the United States."

When Ombudsperson Lois Amsterdam presented the petition to President Lyman in February of 1972, she added her own understanding of the issue.  "Stanford's continued use of the Indian symbol in the 1970's brings up to visibility a painful lack of sensitivity and awareness on the part of the University.  All of us have in some way, by action or inaction, accepted and supported the use of the Indian symbol on campus.  We did not do so with malice, or with intent to defile a racial group.  Rather, it was a reflection of our society's retarded understanding, dulled perception and clouded vision.  Sensitivity and awareness do not come easily when childish misrepresentations in games, history books and motion pictures make up a large part of our experience."

President Lyman then made the official decision to remove forever the Indian as Stanford's mascot.   Over the years there have been unsuccessful campaigns to reinstate the Indian as mascot, or to replace the big-nosed caricature with a more "noble" image of an Indian in 1975.  In a show of support for the decision made by the University administration, the ASSU (Associated Students of Stanford University) voted in December of 1975 not to reinstate the first Indian mascot, nor to replace it with another more noble Indian.  Almost every year, particularly around the time of the Big Game, folks will start up again, campaigning to bring back into fashion their Indian sweaters, headbands, and Halloween war paint, saying all the while that being chosen as the symbol of a great university is an honor.  The University decided in 1972 that "any and all Stanford University use of the Indian Symbol should be immediately disavowed and permanently stopped," and every year since then, the administration has reaffirmed its commitment by saying, simply, the mascot issue is not up for a vote!

by Denni Dianne Woodward

Originally titled: When the "Indian" Was Mascot
Reprinted from ComingVoice, the official newsletter of the Native American Community at Stanford University