Lest the Old Traditions Fail

by Matthew Bartek | 10/31/05 6:00am

In 1971, Orlando, Florida became every child's favorite place when Walt Disney World opened its gates. In 1971, Apollo 14 successfully landed on the moon and Alan Shepard played his famous game of lunar golf. In 1971, South Vietnamese troops, backed by American air and artillery support, invaded Laos. In 1971, the Nasdaq stock index showed its face for the first time. In 1971, Bruce Lee's "Fists of Fury" hit the box office. And in 1971, the Native Americans at Dartmouth released a statement requesting that the Dartmouth "Indian" symbol cease to represent our school as the mascot.

That was 34 years ago.

Yet, just this past Saturday, I walked by four student vendors touting, amongst other bogus reasons, "tradition" as their justification for selling "Indian" symbol shirts. I saw fraternity members showing off their brand new green jackets with "Dartmouth" encircling the "Indian" symbol around campus. And it bothered me. It bothered me because there is no sense of tradition instilled in this symbol. It bothered me because it is detrimental to our Dartmouth community and moreover offends Native Americans, the very people supporters of the symbol ascribe it "honors." Most of all, it bothers me because over thirty years ago, NADs, administrators and an Indian Symbol Committee decided that this symbol should no longer represent the school, but still today, individuals wear their "Wah-hoo-wah" shirts with a smile.

Representing tradition? The "Indian" symbol did not appear until the 1920s when a reporter journeyed up to Hanover, NH and coined the term. Never, during Dartmouth's history, was it the official mascot of the College. In fact, the symbol itself was not placed on athletic uniforms until the 1960s, just years before it was deemed offensive. In the first 200 years of the College's existence, Dartmouth graduated but 20 American Indians, quite a small number for a school whose mission included educating them. So Dartmouth decided to revive its commitment to the Indian population and, in doing so, found that part of the reason why it had graduated so few Native Americans was the social environment and the "Indian" symbol.

Some would say that this is a moot point, a dead issue that does not need resurfacing. But I beg to differ. My point is not that American Indians find the mascot offensive, although that is certainly true. It is not that we should blindly listen to what administrators and committees put forth. What I am saying is that 34 years ago our school issued a statement wishing to disassociate the Dartmouth community from the "Indian" mascot. The insistence of individuals on campus to perpetuate a symbol that was never even a part of their Dartmouth experience is simply detrimental to the unique community that exists at our small College. For that reason, it is offensive to me -- a white male -- and for that reason, I hope that the "Indian" symbol can become a relic of the past.