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Remembering T. K. Wetherell: ‘A great friend to the Tribe’

Florida State University (FSU) President T.K. Wetherell Requests Seminole Tribe Color Guard

Soon after the United States invaded Iraq in March of 2003, FSU President T.K. Wetherell sent a letter to the then Seminole Tribe Chairman, Mitchell Cypress, requesting the Seminole Tribe Color Guard at the school’s Spring Graduation ceremonies in April. The Seminole Tribe Color Guard was asked to present the flags of the United States, Seminole Tribe of Florida, State of Florida and the POW/MIA flag. T.K. was also requesting that the Seminole Color Guard present the flags at all future commencement activities as well. Many FSU students that were in the National Guard had been deployed to Iraq as part of the invasion, and T.K. thought it would be good to recognize their participation by having the Seminole Color Guard present the flags.
This request of President Wetherell was the first of many interactions between FSU and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Seminole Tribe Color Guard first met President Wetherell at the President’s Commencement dinner held in the FSU School of Law prior to the initial graduation ceremony on Friday night. It is tradition at FSU, and at most colleges/universities, to have dinner with university department heads, university officials and the graduation dignitaries. The dinner provides an opportunity to introduce the commencement speaker for that graduation class to the Board of Trustees, and students who gained special recognition. During the first dinner that the Seminole Color Guard attended, T.K. introduced the group which represented a first in FSU history.

NCAA Examines FSU’s Use of Seminole Name

In early summer of 2005, a large effort by NCAA (National College Athletic Association) began to encourage colleges/universities to discontinue use of American Indian/Native American mascots. The organization declared that the use of Indian mascots could only continue if schools obtained an official resolution from a tribe whose name was used that authorized the school to use the mascot name. President Wetherell knew of the long-standing good relationship between the Seminole Tribe and FSU, and he was very adamant about keeping this relationship. T.K. and FSU were truly inspirational in working with the Seminole Tribe to keep the name “Seminole” associated with the school.
Prior to the Seminole Tribal Council approving FSU to use the “Seminole” name, I realized that the NCAA was trying to discourage tribes from allowing colleges/universities to use their Indian name as mascots. It reminded me of a story that our former Seminole Tribal Councilman, Max Osceola, told me. Max and a group of Seminole motorcycle riders were on their way to Sturges in South Dakota when an official of the NCAA called Max on his cell phone. The NCAA official questioned Max about the mascot issue. In a firm voice, Max told the official that “the Seminole people fought the U.S. government to a standstill. We are not bowing down to the NCAA!” To Max, it was history repeating itself again with non-Indians trying to tell Indians what to do.
On June 17, 2005 the Seminole Tribal Council gave approval to FSU to use the name “Seminole.” In exchange, Seminole Tribe of Florida members could attend FSU tuition-free if they met the school’s admission requirements. In the historical words of the Tribe’s chairman at the time, Mitchell Cypress: “We could give Tribal members tangible items that could possibly one day be taken away from them, but FSU can give education to our people and that is something that no one can take away.”

T.K. Wetherell Leaves Florida State University

T.K. announced his retirement as FSU President in 2009. At his last meeting with FSU Trustees, T.K. stated “I want to do some teaching. I want some time to relax and travel…just be a real person.” To me T.K. was always a real person and a great friend to the Tribe.

Seminole Tribe Color Guard
Continues Today

The Seminole Tribe of Florida still has a presence at FSU commencement through the Seminole Police Department. Many of our law enforcement personnel served in Iraq.
I would like to think that we continue our Color Guard presence in honor of the late FSU President T.K. Wetherell.

Stephen D. Bowers served as a member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Color Guard since it was formed many years ago. He had to stop performing with the group last year when he fell and shattered his knee cap.

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