On April 20th, the Florida State student government passed a resolution discouraging FSU fans from donning headdresses at Seminole sporting events, as the FSView's Perry Kostidakis discussed yesterday. Some 'Nole fans immediately took to social media in reacting to the move. But there are a few things to delineate before this whole thing is taken entirely out of context.
To begin, it's important to point out that this is merely a resolution, which expresses the opinion of FSU's Student Government Association (or SGA). It is not binding. It will not be enforced. This was simply a move by students to emphasize the fact that the feathered headdress has never been headwear associated with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, instead being more closely linked to the Plains Indians. It is not a true and accurate representation of the Florida State symbol (remember: the Seminoles are just that: a symbol-- they are not FSU's "mascot").
And here's where I feel many have gotten off track and misinterpreted this gesture: they're taking it as a step in the direction of the Seminoles being removed as FSU's symbol, particularly given other colleges' having to switch away from their Native American nicknames, following a 2005 ruling from the NCAA.
But the outrage surrounding those mascots is entirely different than FSU's use of the Seminoles as a symbol. Syracuse went from the Orangemen to the Orange. And the NFL's Washington Redskins are still referring to a set of human beings only by skin color, neglecting the substantial differences that distinguish one group of people from another. Frankly, it's the definition of stereotyping and racism: implying that all of the native peoples of this continent and their descendents look alike, and therefore must share certain characteristics.
That assumption could not be further from the truth. Native Americans from across North America embrace myriad cultural practices and languages, including, to emphasize and return to the heart of the issue at hand: dress.
Florida State was not asked to change its symbol, primarily because of the backing of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. And from whence does that relationship derive? As you can read in this 2005 release from FSU: trust. Florida State has not fallen back on some lazy characterization. Chief Osceola's clothing is selected by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has established a solid relationship with the university precisely because of the attention to detail that the SGA's resolution displays.
This relationship is based on a respect founded on the belief that FSU is not trying to characterize a proud tribe of people by a color or any other broad stroke. Florida State has taken the appropriate steps, over the years, to make sure that its symbol is, inherently and down to the finest detail, not some generic, myopic, cartoon-caricature of a Native American, but rather, a distinctive, authentic, representation: one of a Florida Seminole.
And that's why this resolution from the FSU SGA is not faciliting the removal of the Seminole as Florida State's symbol, but rather, strengthening the very relationship that keeps it as such. It's a call from the elected student leaders at FSU to their classmates, one essentially insisting that if we're going to be Seminoles, there's only one way to do so: accurately and authentically.
It's obvious to me that Florida State fans' hearts are in the right place on this; but maybe their heads are not, given the collective outcry over this legislation. 'Noles love being 'Noles. The message sent is clear: the Seminole Tribe did not, and does not, don large feathered headdresses. If you take so much pride in calling yourself a Seminole, perhaps you should strongly reconsider continuing to do so. Can you still wear a feathered headdress? Yeah. But that's not the point. If you really consider yourself a 'Nole, the bigger question this legislation begs is simple: why would you want to engage in such a misrepresentation of a symbol you claim to hold so dear?