Woodling: Brock not big on Indian nicknames

My high school’s nickname was the Indians.

“We are the Indians, couldn’t be prouder;

can’t hear us now, then we’ll yell a little louder.”

We weren’t really Indians, of course. In fact, I doubt if the school contained a single student of Native American heritage. Then again, we didn’t have any African-Americans or Hispanics or Asians enrolled, either.

If anything, the school’s nickname should have been the Anglos. But that would have been silly. NOBODY used that nickname, whereas Indians and its variations – Chiefs, Chieftains, Warriors, Redskins, Redmen, etc. – were prevalent all over the country.

Today, however, you can bet a full tank of gas that no new school will adopt a nickname with a Native American connotation, nor will any established school change its mascot to anything resembling an Indian stereotype.

Over the years, those nicknames have slowly – some think too slowly – disappeared. Goodbye, Stanford Indians. Adios, St. John’s Redmen. Auf wiedersehen, Marquette Warriors.

As you know, the NCAA has stepped into the process by targeting several Native American nicknames it believes should be removed and replaced.

Haskell Indian Nations University doesn’t belong to the NCAA. HINU is a member of the NAIA, which hasn’t taken a stand about Indian nicknames. Not that Haskell would be affected if the NAIA did act.

Nobody is going to tell Haskell to drop its nickname of the Fightin’ Indians. Or as Eric Brock, HINU’s football coach, told me: “We’re all Indians, so that’s OK.”

At the relatively tender age of 31, Brock is in his fourth season as Haskell’s coach. He is not an outgoing person, but he strikes you as being quietly intelligent. A member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico, Brock graduated from Haskell when it still was a two-year school, then earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Fort Lewis State and a masters degree from New Mexico.

Like most Native Americans, Brock is proud of his heritage. At the same time, he is outspoken about the blatant use of stereotypes.

“In 99 percent of the cases, I’m offended,” he said. “They say they’re honoring Native Americans with those nicknames, but there are plenty of other ways to honor them.”

He is particularly offended, he says, by Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ caricature.

“It’s so typical with the large nose, the big grin and the one feather,” Brock said. “The majority of kids on our team don’t look anything like that picture.”

When I asked him which mascot offended him the most, Brock didn’t hesitate. Chief Illiniwek. Like many others, Brock believes the Illinois University mascot burlesques Native American religion.

Even the Kansas City Chiefs have taken a step backward in Brock’s opinion.

“I’m a Chiefs fan, always have been,” he said. “The Chiefs never offended me until I saw a picture that had them dressed in (Native American) regalia.”

My high school closed several years ago. If it ever reopens, I sure hope they come up with a new nickname.

Like most of you, I’ve read and heard how Native Americans feel about demeaning nicknames. Believe me, it has much more impact when one of them tells you to your face.