Indian Uprising: Arkansas State Pays Final Tribute To Mascot

JONESBORO - This time Arkansas State's Indian Family is gone for good.

Chief Big Track, the Indian princess and Indian brave were retired Thursday as part of the university's official phasing out of Native American imagery. A movement in the mid-1990s brought the trio back as a part of ASU athletic events, but compliance with the NCAA led the school to retire the mascots Thursday at halftime of the Indians' 75-64 victory against Louisiana Monroe.

ASU alum John Phillips, who oversaw the return of the mascots to the Jonesboro campus in 1996, was one of 6,651 fans on had as the Indian Family was officially retired on Thursday. He and others who have served as school mascots over the past 77 years were honored at the Convocation Center.

Phillips, a Missouri banker, served as part of the Indian Family from 1969-1973. He worked to revive the group after it was briefly phased out and has since served as an advisor to students who served as mascots.

Even with his connection, Phillips said he had come to support the decision. Either Wolves or Red Wolves will become the official mascot at the end of the spring semester.

"We know we've got to move forward," Phillips said. "We've got to make Wolves our own now."

Schools that utilized Indian imagery in a manner deemed "hostile or abusive" were contacted by the NCAA in 2005 and asked to choose other mascots. ASU was one of 17 schools to receive its letter and took its time in deciding whether to fight or change.

Once ASU administrators decided to change, they began looking for ways to ease into a new era.

Part of that transition included Thursday's video tribute to the Indian Family.

Photos from the past 55 years were included in the video. Those images served as a reminder of why the mascot needs to change, ASU fan Rodney Hannah, 41, said.

"It's kind of sad, but it was time," Hannah said. "There are a lot of things shown in that video - with the horse, the spear - that they just can't do with the Indian Family anymore. They've been so stoic. It's not been the same. It was time."

Not all who attended the game shared that view.

Longtime Indian fan Abe Blindman is not among the supporters of the move. He's had seats on the front row of the Convocation Center since it opened nearly two decades ago and was a season-ticket holder long before that.

"I don't like it one bit," Blindman said. "If I was the athletic director I'd tell the NCAA to ‘go to hell.' I don't know what the penalty would be, but that's what I'd do."

Arkansas State could ill-afford keeping the mascot.

Since the NCAA mandated schools change, one Big 10 program passed on a game with the Indians because of their mascot. By keeping Indians the school would have risked the opportunity to host postseason competition.

Those factors would have cost the school a lot in needed revenue.

Some schools like Florida State - thanks to the support of a specific tribe, tradition and deep pockets of its supporters - were able to retain their mascots. Arkansas State did not see itself in a position to fight the NCAA like the Seminoles.

"The issue was not going to go away," athletic director Dean Lee said. "We made the decision to make the change. We had to make the decision."

Sometime in the next six months Wolves or Red Wolves will be phased in as the new mascot. School officials are working with New York-based Phoenix Design Works to review potential new logos.

While the Indian Family will be phased out, the campus is full of Native American imagery. Buildings are named after specific tribes. A 1,000-pound Indian statue greets students at the entrance of the campus' student center. Nicknamed ‘Clyde', the statue was a gift to the school from the student government in 1959.

None of that, Lee said, is expected to change.

"The only thing we will be changing is what's in the athletic venues," Lee said. "That's all the NCAA has sanctions on. We will be looking specifically at those things visible from public standpoint. That's what we'll change."

Changing will take time. And money.

Initial studies by the university estimated the cost at $250,000 to make the necessary changes. Lee said the figure could be lower thanks to the school deciding in recent years to phase its block stAte logo back onto uniforms.

Merchandise with Indians on it has been a hot-selling item for local businesses. Shelia and Hoppy Hoffman own the Design Shoppe in Jonesboro and were down to their last Indian items on Thursday afternoon.

While taking inventory early Thursday morning, Shelia Hoffman came across a pink baby's ball cap printed with ‘Future Indian' across the front. That, Hoffman said, hit her as hard as anything else she has experienced in dealing with the transition.

"There's no more ‘Future Indians'," Hoffman said. "It's strange.

"It's been like death. You know it's coming," Hoffman added. "That' doesn't make it any easier to deal with."