June 17, 2014 - by

Evolving Images

In FSU’s early years, Native American imagery and mascots were heavily influenced by the Hollywood version of the American Indians, and often bore little or no resemblance to the Seminole Indians of Florida. It would take several decades for attitudes to evolve, and for the university to fully appreciate the importance of its symbols. As time passed, however, FSU’s mascots adopted more and more aspects of the Florida Seminole tribe, and were presented in a more respectful manner.

In the 1950s and `60s, Native American images used at FSU were adapted from the Indians of the Plains region. Elaborate, feathered war bonnets — some so long they touched the floor — were common, and prominently adorned the Homecoming Queen each year. They were elegant and colorful, but were nothing like headdresses worn by Florida Seminoles. (Historically, Florida Seminole men wore a simple turban with a single, or just a couple, of plumed feathers tucked into the back.)

The war bonnet was not the only characteristic that FSU organizations and fans borrowed from Plains Indian culture. Supporters also appeared in mohawks and loincloths. They built huge teepees and made references to wig-wams and tom-toms.

In addition, in the early years, American Indian images were often portrayed in a cartoonish fashion. FSU mascots from Sammy Seminole to Chief Fullabull were more slapstick than respectful in nature to the people they claimed to represent.

Where did FSU students and fans get the idea to use such stereotypical characteristics? During the 1950s, FSU students and fans, like the American public in general, had a limited image of Native Americans. The image was mostly painted by Hollywood. Television taught America how Indians looked, how they talked, and how they lived. For example, children learned about Indians through Saturday morning cartoons. The bare-chested red man with the potbelly and the big nose wore a feathered war bonnet and a loincloth. He greeted others by crossing his arms in front of his chest, nodding his head and saying “How.” These were, indeed, naïve perceptions.

FSU students began to debate their use of the Seminole name as early as 1957, when the first horses and Indian riders appeared during Homecoming festivities. Questions were raised about the stereotypical representation of the tribe. Students complained about the misrepresentation of the Florida Seminoles and about the imagery borrowed from Plains Indians. It was suggested that many such images might be offensive to the Florida Seminole Indians.

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