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Like the old Florida flag: ‘Let us alone!’

James E. BillieMascots have started to surface again, with controversy. Different people of this land are objecting to the use of Native American mascots and it’s in the news again. We Seminoles down in Florida have no qualms with other Indian people objecting to the use of mascots that may insult Native Americans.

But we, the people of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, support the Florida State University mascot. Though it is a mascot for a sports team, it also represents the courage of the people who were here and are still here, known as the Unconquered Seminoles.

As the Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, I know of no one in my Tribe objecting to the use of the mascot. I consider the students and graduates of FSU as my extended family. At one time our Seminole people here in Florida were reduced down to less than 200 individuals. Though our Tribal population has recovered, if you consider all the current students and past graduates of FSU, this extended family of Seminole supporters is several hundred thousand strong.

When my family and I go to the homecoming games in Tallahassee, I enjoy doing the tomahawk chop and listening to the war chant. I enjoy the Appaloosa horse galloping out onto the field, our symbolic Osceola astride the beautiful beast as he spears the football field. My wife and son and daughter enjoy the exciting atmosphere of college football game day.

Why do we Seminoles in Florida support FSU using the Seminole mascot? What is unique about the Florida Seminoles is that back in the 1700s and 1800s when the Spanish were hunting us and later when the Indian Removal Act passed, our Tribal population was decimated. Staring into the eyes of defeat, time and time again, we have prevailed, and today the Florida Seminoles are considered among the best business people on this Earth. Hard Rock has brought us to this level, which few could even imagine would ever happen. And all during that time, we considered ourselves the Unconquered Seminoles.

And, although we were reduced in numbers, we never signed a treaty. And, by the grace of God, we still live in the land we love.

I know the people who are objecting to Native American mascots and I have no qualms as to what they are asking. I’m sure they have their own legitimate objectives. But, whatever they are doing, the only thing we are saying is, “Let our mascot alone!”

Contrary to what many may think, we do not ask FSU for any particular favors in return for using Seminole as their mascot. We did not go to Tallahassee begging for anything. The university, itself, opened its doors to some sort of tuition offer, but we do not go to that level. We stand on our own two feet and we don’t ask for any particular favors.

We had a meeting one time and we only asked that they portray the Seminole mascot as authentic as they can. I am not too sure of the Appaloosa, but it is a beautiful horse. We Seminoles did ride horses, and I do believe Appaloosas are commonly depicted as Indian-type animals.

The man who portrays Osceola may not be an Indian, but behind the war robes, he must carry Osceola’s spirit with him. He must have high personal standards and, academically, maintain good grades. For he portrays one of the most well-known warriors throughout world history. The name Osceola is well-known throughout the world, from North America to Europe. Perhaps even in Russia and China.

So all I can say is, “Let our mascot alone.”

It’s been a long time since that meeting, but I made a joke about it at the time. I told the university president, “We Seminoles will embrace the mascot as long as the team is winning.” But that was a joke. It doesn’t matter if we are losing or not, we still love the team. However, the majority of the time we are winning anyway. FSU has always had an excellent football team.

As for the Redskin issue that has resurfaced recently: History tells us that years ago, the Iroquois and other Indian nations used to paint their bodies red to prepare for battle. The color red, when we put it on our bodies is in preparation for death; just in case we die, we will be ready. It’s the same as when somebody dies – you take them to church and pray for them in hopes they go to heaven. In battle, you can’t do that, so you have to prepare yourself for death.

Us, we put red below our eyes and elsewhere and it’s the same – preparation for death if it comes. I guess in the northern Indian countries, they may use more red. But, as far as I know, that is where the term “red skin” came from. That’s the way I know it. To me, it has nothing necessarily to do with their actual skin color. Because Indians aren’t red; they are brown.

Some Native Americans may be offended by the word because of other reasons, and I have no qualms with them objecting to it. All I am saying is just let my mascot alone.

When I see that football team, I do not think of Washington Redskins as an insult. I think it is a heroic football team rated high in battle because Indians, by heredity, enjoy sports, vicious sports. You play the ball game as close as you can get to the old days of warfare. As a matter of fact, the ball game is what we call the “Little Brother to War.”

I am sure there will be people out there who don’t like what I am saying. But remember, in the old Indian days, you don’t travel to another Indian’s territory and start trying to tell him what to do. It’s the same today. People have come into my territory, which is the state of Florida, and tried to tell us what to do. I told them to go back to their own territory. In my own territory of Florida, we support the FSU mascot. I am not going to cross the line and start telling other people how to do their business. We Seminoles don’t go to their territory and start dictating to them.

Stay out of my territory. This is my place, my home, my university, my mascot, my Tribal members and my extended family.

The state of Florida has never been prejudiced toward our people. They have always embraced us and tried to help us get on our feet. And eventually we did. And now we take care of our people through the help of many, especially our extended family of hundreds of thousands from FSU. Because, many times, you never know exactly who it is that is helping you. So, we respect that effort. We never say the white people have mistreated us.

Sure, somewhere on the battlefield we were mistreated. And we did our mistreatment the other way to the white. I don’t have any ill feelings and the majority of the Seminole people do not have ill feelings.

We Seminoles intend to be on this Earth until the end of time and as far as I’m concerned, the mascot at FSU will be there forever. If the Seminoles die off the face of the Earth, maybe we’ll take him with us.
Until then, here in Florida, the Seminoles embrace our FSU mascot. As the first Florida flag said in 1845: Let us alone!

James E. Billie is Chairman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.