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OPINION: Please, respect what Indigenous people wish to be called

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Maurice Switzer

Maurice Switzer

While it was pleasing to hear guest columnist Ed Gresham (July 25) extoll the heroic virtues of the Seminoles of south Florida, he appears not to have any awareness of the reason the tribe actually endorses the continued use of its name by Florida State teams.

University officials have engaged with Seminole leaders in a respectful way, asking for their thoughts on the use of their name, rather than continuing to simply brand their team sweaters with it.

Relying on consultations with the Seminole people, the university has agreed to amend their logo to a less caricaturish and stereotypical appearance, and to significantly change the Chief Osceola “mascot” to eliminate historically inaccurate depictions  — including warpaint and spear-brandishment.

In addition, the student selected to depict Osceola must wear authentic clothing made by Seminole women and maintain excellent grades! The Seminoles also derive tangible benefits through their relationship with the university, in the form of a scholarship program specifically designated for tribal students.

It would be unfortunate if Mr. Gresham’s misunderstanding of the significance of the unilateral misappropriation and stereotypical use of Indigenous images — and use of derogatory names to describe Indigenous peoples — is conveyed to your readers as factual information.

He should also be aware that the National Collegiate Athletic Association – the U.S. organization that regulates student athletes from 1,268 North American institutions and conferences – has adopted an official policy to eliminate “hostile and abusive” names and mascots.

Campuses that ignore this policy are not permitted to host NCAA-sanctioned events, which means acceptance of it has been ostensibly universal.

For those well-intentioned people like Mr. Gresham who say that stereotypes created by non-Indigenous peoples actually “honour” Indigenous peoples, I would suggest that citizens who genuinely hold that opinion are welcome to tangibly demonstrate it by actively urging their governments in Canada and the United States to honour the treaties that the constitutions of both countries characterize as the rule of law.

For Indigenous peoples, being called names by the most recent arrivals to our shores is a stark reminder of the genocide they have unleashed.

If you respect our opinion about what we want to be called, we will return the favour.


Maurice Switzer is a citizen of the Mississaugas of Alderville First Nation who has served as director of communications for the Union of Ontario Indians and Assembly of First Nations, an adjunct professor of Indigenous Studies at the University of Sudbury, and as a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He lives in North Bay.

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