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Arkansas State draws support from Indian descendants

JONESBORO, Ark. -- Some American Indian descendants are
helping Arkansas State athletic officials address an NCAA ban that
prohibits the use of "hostile and abusive" mascots, logos and
nicknames.
A group has presented research on the area's American Indian
history to the community, and people of Cherokee descent spoke
Saturday with Arkansas State athletic officials at a meeting at the
Convocation Center. The school's mascot is the Indians.
"We're here to help improve Arkansas State University and its
relationship with all its indigenous students and population,"
Paul Matheny said. "Depicting a caricature or something of that
nature would be offensive, but this university has tried very hard
to honor the good things that we all try to emphasize about
American Indian culture."
David Wahyahneetah, whose name translates to Youngwolf, said it
would be misleading to say the issue is at the top of the agenda
for major Indian organizations, but he also believes that if
someone picked a name that would be indefensible with tribes, it
would be Indians.
"If you attempt long-term to keep the name, it's my belief
that ... it is just a matter of time before you wind up in some type
of litigation," he said.
Wahyahneetah noted that the Indians who once lived in the area
did not use a headdress like that used by the ASU mascot.
"If you're trying to identify with the groups who were
here...then that image was the wrong image," he said.
Victoria Matheny also said that there were no Cherokee
princesses. A princess is a part of ASU's Indian Family.
"If you're going to portray a group of people who were here and
have been here, you have to do it with their traditions in mind,"
she said. "That's why we have a problem with the headdress. That's
Plains Indians, and you have to go further west for that.
She said she was happy to see people remember that Indians are a
major part of the nation's history and "if it is done in a
respectful way, I applaud that. With that in mind, I think there
could be a positive portrayal."
ASU officials have provided the NCAA with a list of questions
for a Nov. 28 video conference. University President Les Wyatt and
Athletic Director Dean Lee also plan to meet with NCAA officials.
Lee said ASU's position has not changed.
"The comments we have received from our fans and alumni are
overwhelming in support of our portrayal of Native American
heritage," he said. "It is our objective to represent Native
Americans in a dignified and stately manner."
Arkansas State and 17 other schools were listed this summer by
the NCAA as those whose mascots were "hostile and abusive." The
organization's ban applies to postseason tournaments, effective
Feb. 1, and also prohibits schools with those nicknames from
hosting NCAA postseason championships.
Florida State, Utah and Central Michigan have won appeals from
the NCAA, based primarily on their support by local tribes. The
NCAA has rejected appeals from Illinois, Bradley and North Dakota.