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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 14, 2002 - Issue 76


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Fightin' Whites Fund Scholarships

credits: Denver Post
GREELEY, CO - The Fightin' Whites - the famous intramural basketball team whose name is meant to goad schools to end the use of Indian mascots - has raised $100,000 for scholarships for Native American college students.

The multiethnic team at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley collected the money by selling more than 15,000 T- shirts on its website, team members said.

The shirts, available in several styles, feature the team name, a campy caricature of its white- guy mascot and the phrase, "Every thang's gonna be all white." Some merchandise bears the team's in-your-face alternate moniker, the Fightin' Whities.

Sales have been steady since the intramural squad was the focus of an international media frenzy in spring, when outlets from the Los Angeles Times to "The Rush Limbaugh Show" carried news about the team's satirical protest of Indian mascots.

With turn-the-tables humor, the team has tried to show that Indian mascots, used by an estimated 3,000 schools and professional sports teams, often are dehumanizing stereotypes that would not be acceptable if used to reflect another race.

"I have seen these T-shirts all over the place. Everybody has heard of the Fightin' Whites," said Charlene Teters, a member of the Spokane Nation and vice president of the American Indian Movement's National Coalition on Race in Sports and Media.

"They've turned something from a local issue to expanding the level of debate in other communities, and in the process they've raised money for native scholarships," Teters said. "I think they need to be commended for the work they've done."

In early October, team members formed an endowment fund through the UNC Foundation with an initial investment of $10,000.

Now the team, already a Colorado nonprofit, is awaiting word on whether it will be allowed federal tax-exempt status.

If that occurs, teammates expect to funnel the additional T- shirt income into the endowment to provide Indian students and other ethnic minorities with scholarships to UNC, the state's main teacher-education school.

The team might also provide scholarships to other schools.

"We could have given the money to an organization to help fight Indian mascots, but most of us felt it would be better to help Native American students at this school. We just want to do the right thing," said Charlie Cuny, a team founder and Oglala Lakota student majoring in physical education.

"The money available for Indian kids to go to school is a fraction of what it needs to be," said Cuny, who grew up on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. He said he relies on a federal Pell Grant and student loans to attend college.

Each school year, the UNC fund could supply two students with scholarships of up to $2,000 each - enough to cover a typical semester's tuition and books at UNC, said Jeff Van Iwarden, an Anglo teammate who has worked on money matters for the Fightin' Whites. The team expects the first scholarships to be given in fall 2003.

The amounts granted will turn on the tax issue and could be as little as $500 per student, he said.

Even so, the teammates marveled at their transformation from admittedly untalented basketball players at a small Western university to controversial torchbearers for a decades-old American Indian cause. The bonanza reaped from their ironic tack is expected to benefit Native American students for years to come.

"We couldn't have asked for much more. We got the message out there, and we're helping Native American students," Van Iwarden said.

Even as scholarship plans form, the basketball team is anticipating its second season on the court starting in late January.

The Fightin' Whites hope to expand their approach. Players have tossed around ideas such as sponsoring a women's intramural team at UNC and encouraging intramural squads at other universities nationwide to adopt the team name and mission to fight stereotypical Indian mascots.

"If it were any other race, people wouldn't stand for it. But because it's Indians, people look over it. That's got to change," Cuny said of Indian mascots.

Teammates took their name as a direct jab at the Fightin' Reds mascot at Eaton High School in a farm town near Greeley. The embattled mascot is a defiant cartoon Indian with a misshapen nose, eagle feather and loincloth. In some versions, the caricature has bare buttocks.

Critics of the Fightin' Whites have charged that the team is wasting time on a nonissue.

But teammates see stereotypical mascots as a belittling barrier that prevents society from understanding American Indians as a real people with contemporary concerns.

"Working here in Greeley has really opened my eyes to see how uneducated some people are about other cultures," said Solomon Little Owl, a member of the Crow Nation and director of Native American Student Services at UNC.

"People say this is a nonissue, but what they're really saying is, 'I don't want to change my beliefs about other ethnicities,"' said Little Owl, who is also a Fightin' Whites player. "This is an issue of identity."

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