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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Time to remove EWU caricature

The Spokesman-Review

With money for higher education tight, it appears at first glance that Eastern Washington University has lost sight of funding priorities in its quest to exorcise a specter of sports seasons past.

In a move to console American-Indian students and staff, EWU President Stephen Jordan told the board of trustees last week he’s committed to finding more than $80,000 to remove a racist image left over from the early ‘70s: a caricature of a stooped Indian with a raised tomahawk that’s embedded in the bricks in the school’s athletic center floor.

“My hope is we can find a way to put this issue behind us,” Jordan said. “It has been an issue since the board made the decision in 1973 – appropriately so – to remove that Savage mascot image.”

Good people – in Indian country and beyond – may quibble about such mascots as Indians, Braves and Warriors. But no one can argue that Savage is anything but a derogatory term. Among the terms Webster’s uses to describe the word are: wild, uncultivated, barbarous, crude, cruel, pitiless. The college was right to drop the mascot in favor of Eagles three decades ago. And now it should finish the job by shaving the cartoon figure from the custom bricks cemented into the walkway leading to the sports complex south of Woodward Field.

Anyone who complains about political correctness should look at the issue from an American Indian’s point of view here.

Deirdre Almeida, a Delaware and Pawnee tribe member, watched anxiously in March when the EWU men’s team played Oklahoma State in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament at Kansas City, Mo. With the eyes of the nation on the feisty team from Cheney, the director of EWU’s American Indian studies program was worried that Indians from around the country would learn of the disgraceful image. She was reminded of the cartoon character’s staying power this season when five students wore T-shirts bearing the image to EWU games.

Roger Jack, an Indian studies professor and diehard EWU sports fan, was so upset by the return of the Savage that he considered staying away from men’s basketball games. In 1972, he helped campaign against the original mascot.

If this were simply a matter of ridding the college of an icon that a significant regional minority finds hurtful, EWU would be wise to spend the money to scrape it from memory. But it’s more than that. EWU is one of the Inland Northwest colleges and universities that actively recruit American Indian students for purposes of diversity and to reconnect with the history of the Inland Northwest.

Until now, EWU has sent a mixed message to American Indians by saying it wants ethnic students while tolerating a caricature that mocks them. Even in tight financial times, President Jordan has set a worthy goal as he tries to excise the unwelcome Savage from the college mat.

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