Letter to Editor:
Create Native-based rituals
To the Editor:
With the return of football at UNCP, there have been incidents of spectators using the infamous tomahawk chop at home games in support of “Braves” athletics.
We should not be without concern for our image, and integrity as an institution of higher learning is at stake.
Like athletic role models, sports mascots, nicknames, and logos do have an impact upon the imagination of youth in our communities.
When I was a very young boy growing up in Virginia, there was a football game that captured my imagination. It was the 1961 Rose Bowl when the University of Washington Huskies took to the gridiron facing the number one ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers.
When the teams took the field that New Year’s Day, the cameras panned to the sidelines revealing a beautiful Malamute Husky dog and, in that instance, UW earned my undying loyalty with their handsome canine mascot.
Among my Monacan ancestors, the pictographic drawing of a dog symbolized the organic virtues associated with dog-kind that is loyalty, faithfulness and love.
Born in my love of dogs and the ecstasy of that UW victory, I pledged before all in my little family home that someday I would become a Husky. Certainly no one there thought to take me seriously. But, fate had it that some years later we packed our belongings bound for Puget Sound.
Steadfast to my pledge those many years before, I made my way to the Seattle campus and achieved my dream with a degree from the UW where Huskies prowl the sidelines.
Reflecting on the character of my Husky nation dream, I know that sports mascots have an impact upon the popular conscious.
As a result, it is my view that we must take care with these dream making images least they bite us in the end.
Certainly, as many of you know, I opposed the retention of the “Braves” nickname on the grounds that it is stereotypical of Native Americans and that it has no place in our traditional cultural heritage.
There were no “braves” among “Indian” nations, as the idea of a human virtue personified in abstraction was not possible in absence of an organic referent such as the loyal dog.
Virtue in abstraction is meaningless; virtue is manifest, moreover, in deeds and experience as derived from fellow creatures of our organic existence.
Traditionally, Indians in the Southeast saw loyalty and love in the dog, wrath and anger in the serpent, and the power to see the whole picture in the eagle.
If one wanted to attract and enjoin the powers of war, he called upon the woodpeckers in their attack upon decaying trees for insect larvae.
On the other hand, “Braves” is something lost in abstraction because there is no organic referent.
Indeed, it is something European in origin implying bravado and ultimately barbarian in its old Latin beginnings.
Surely this origin does not signify Native America – as it was only the wars of conquest and colonialism engaged against Natives that afterwards the abstract moniker took hold of an Indian identity.
Born of Roman stereotyped barbarians, “Braves” is an unworthy commemoration of the brave Lumbee men, women, and children who braved apartheid racism to found UNCP.
To add the indignity of the tomahawk chop, a practice that celebrates savagery in lieu of our Native ancestors patriotic defense of our indigenous homelands against cruel invasion, is tantamount to adding insult to injury.
Nonetheless, the community has decreed that “Braves” will be the UNCP nickname; however, in the athletic logo there is a totemic hawk atop the intrepid warrior’s head.
In its wisdom, the university committee on traditions has sagely acknowledged this hawk – spirit helper totem – as the UNCP mascot.
So now a hawk simulation prowls the UNCP sidelines nurturing and sustaining the virtues of “Braves” athletics.
Rather than mimicking the Atlanta Braves with their woeful history of Native American stereotyping, it is best that we at UNCP honor the founding Lumbee spirit with traditions born of a Native cultural heritage.
In this way, we just might re-habilitate the “Braves” nickname and give it some virtue by acknowledging the hawk totem.
At sporting events, fans must expect to have fun and be engaged in momentum building rituals designed to sustain pride and encourage success.
Let us consider some of the ways to build a more organic tradition characteristic of the Lumbee genesis of UNCP.
To begin, we might use a hawk cry broadcast over the loudspeaker system to commemorate “Braves” touchdowns and at other crucial momentum building moments.
While chanting the hawk cry, it might be accompanied by a hand gesture mimicking the talons of a hawk striking for its prey.
To open games, we might create a shrine, which the football players ceremonially touch when taking to the field.
In this regard, perhaps the university might consider moving the arrowhead in front of Old Main or the boulder with “Tommy Hawk” in front of the Chavis Center to a prominent place at the entrance to the stadium.
The chosen object could then become a talisman for generating team spirit and encouraging fan enthusiasm.
During games the band might develop a woodpecker drum roll simulating the warrior spirit traditionally characteristic of Southeast Indians.
To celebrate the spirit of UNCP’s Lumbee heritage, the student body might elect an honorary Henry Barry Lowry and Rhoda Strong Lowry to be attired in traditional dress and to join the Pep Squad at all sporting events.
These suggestions are but a few possibilities that would certainly go a long way to honor the Native heritage at UNCP while affirming its origins in the Lumbee community.
In creating a UNCP tradition free of the “chop,” we just might transcend the “Braves” as a hawk soars on the wind.
–Jay Hansford C. Vest, Ph.D.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Vest is an enrolled member Monacan Indian Nation, a direct descendent of Opechcancanough (Pamunkey) and Associate Professor of American Indian Studies