The first Mass Seal Indian was most inappropriately dressed in a leaf skirt, which is what happens when you get someone in London to draw an Indian. The leafy loincloth was copied, with some artistic license, from the vegetable vestments illustrated in Sir Walter Raleigh's best-selling "The Discoverie of Guiana," that is, modern Venezuela. The nickname comes from the Orders in Council of 1780, when the Indian figure, somewhat improved but not enough to be correct, was restored to the blue (sapphire-colored) body of the Mass Seal by the words: "On the seal, sapphire, an Indian . . ."
Of the 800 members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, fewer than 25 teams have Indian names, Indian mascots or Indian logos. And in the age of heightened sensitivity, the number is shrinking. Just last fall, the Eastern Michigan Hurons dropped their nickname, and the Central Michigan Chippewas are studying the issue. All in all, Indians run a distant fourth behind other nicknames, all of which signal a symbolic fierceness. This suggests that the choice of an Indian motif (usually Red Men, Red Warriors, Braves or Chiefs, and memorably in the case of Alcorn (Mississippi) State, the Scalping Braves) is not value-neutral. The most mixed signal comes from the St. Bonaventure Brown Indians, a unique cultural group. They are not red because the college is Franciscan, the "brown friars" of the Order of Friars Minor.
Not all of these Indian references offend John Peters, the Massachusetts commissioner of Indian Affairs, who is not slow to see the problem with cheapening the concept of Native American culture. "It's the ones that have a negative image, a mascot running around with a tomahawk or a spear," he says. "A dignified Indian head is different." (The Eastern Michigan Huron was certainly dignified, but that didn't stop the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union from pressing for its departure. Political correctness is a slippery slope.)