By Calvin Maynard
Since the debate over the Washington Redskins’ name began a few decades ago, dozens of colleges across the nation have been changing their names and mascots to remove all references to Native American culture, fearful of bad press. Could the TJC Apaches be next?
The Washington Redskins have been embroiled in a fiery controversy over their name since the early 1990’s . Native American advocacy groups claim that the name is offensive, and that it perpetuates negative stereotypes of their culture. Those in favor of the name claim that it was unoffensive when it was adopted in 1933 and that the name carries with it the history of the team and decades of respect and honor towards Native Americans.
Many colleges today, however, fear the bad press such debates bring with them, so they are changing their names and mascots to get rid of content anyone might find offensive.
The Syracuse Chiefs became the Sky Chiefs and dropped their mascot — a caricature of a Native American brave called the Saltine Warrior. The Liverpool Warriors abandoned their Indian logo in favor of an ancient Greek warrior.
The TJC athletic programs’ logo is a Native American Warrior with feathers in his hair. The school newspaper is called the “Apache Pow Wow.” The cafeteria is named “Apache Junction.”
The debate doesn’t seem to affect a junior college compared to the bigger universities out there.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with people finding our name offensive,” said Dr. Tim Drain, director of Intercollegiate Athletics. “This is my fifteenth year here, and I’ve never gotten a letter or a call. If there’s been any complaints, they’ve never reached my desk. I’ve had some people joke like they were offended, but that’s all. It’s never been a problem.”
The TJC press echoes the same testimony as the athletics programs.
“No, I’ve never really had a complaint,” said Professor Laura Krantz, department chair of Communications and Student Media. “We’ve never gotten anything but support. There were times we were worried people might take offense, but it’s never happened. Pow Wow has always meant an exchange of news and ideas, and that’s what our paper has always tried to be.”
So why is there no controversy here? Schools across the nation, ranging from prestigious universities to small high schools have been caught in such controversies for years. Why has TJC been left in peace? Because TJC has done it right, according to TJC president Dr. Mike Metke.
“We’ve always been very careful to treat the Apache name with dignity and respect,”
Dr. Metke said. “It’s a fine name. It has real honor to it… I can see how people would find ‘Redskins’ offensive, but there’s nothing at all offensive about the name ‘Apache,’ because it’s a proud name, and we honor it.”
None really know for sure how Tyler Junior College become the Apaches in the first place.
According to A History of Tyler Junior College 1926 – 1986, until 1927 TJC’s sports teams were called the Buccaneers. However, in 1927, TJC joined an association of colleges, one of whom had already claimed the title of the Buccaneers. So, the administration called a student meeting in the now-demolished gymnasium, where student Annie Hill reportedly yelled out “Let’s be the Apaches!”
“I’ve been quite interested in the history of TJC and the Apache name, so I’ve done some research there,” Dr. Metke said. “It seems only Native Americans were Caddo Indians. There were no Apaches in Texas, and if there were, they were pretty much just in the west, certainly not around here. So, it seems Ms. Hill just thought it sounded cool.”
Apparently, everyone else thoughts so too. The name was quickly adopted, because students felt that the name “Apache” carried a fear and respect that would be useful in sports.
Respect for the past has always been a hallmark of Tyler Junior College, but it has always marched hand in hand with a concern for the future.
“The last mascot we had was of Indian ancestry,” said Marian Jackson, director of TJC’s Vaughn Library. “He even furnished his own regalia! But the mascot was dropped in the late 1980’s to avoid being offensive. There weren’t any specific complaints, but it just wasn’t the politically correct thing anymore.”
Later that year, TJC began funding a journalism department, including a student-lead publication called the “Pow-Wow.”
“See, the Pow Wow was started in 1927,” said Krantz. “I think it was around 1970 when the name became the “TJC News.” Then, when I came to head up the paper in 2007, there was a student-led movement to move it back to the Pow Wow. It was the eightieth anniversary,, There was a new professor and the students just wanted to get back to the paper’s roots.”
It is that respect for the past and concern for the future that, according to Dr. Metke, has led to TJC’s spotless record in its handling of potentially sensitive racial issues.
“I think that the lack of conflict is due to two factors,” Dr. Metke later said. “First, we’ve always been careful to bear the Apache name with respect and honor. It’s something we’re very conscious of. Second though, I’d say a large part of it is due to the fact that we’re sort of under the radar. We just haven’t attracted that kind of negative attention. I know some schools have had to change, but some schools, like the Florida Seminoles, have actually gotten the approval of the tribes they’re named after. But the Apaches are split into many different groups, so overall, we’ve decided it isn’t worth it. Reaching out can be a two-edged sword. We just don’t want to go to that extraordinary expense, and then risk hearing something that could be very difficult for us. It would be big trouble if a Redskins debate happened here. There are some people out there who will just get offended at anything, so if you try to appease everybody, nothing gets done.”