The Mascot's Removal
For most of Dartmouth’s history, minority voices were excluded from the student body. Without Native American students to defend their complex heritage, the Indian symbol caught on as the unofficial icon of the College and its sports teams. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, Dartmouth refocused on admitting Native American students and fulfilling its foundational promise to educate them. Now fully integrated into campus, Native American students finally had a clear voice, and as a part of the Dartmouth community, they were heard by many administrators, students, and alumni. The students effectively communicated how the use of such caricatures as the Indian symbol undermined their Dartmouth experience, while making clear the pain and discomfort they felt as fellow students shouted the “Wah-Hoo-Wah” chant at them. Demanding equal treatment, they fought to be free from the insults and mockery they experienced on account of their race and culture. White fellow students and alumni frequently claimed that their invocation of the Indian symbol was merely the glorification of a vaunted Dartmouth tradition, and not ill-intentioned. But Native American students succeeded in the end in convincing many, though not all, that the symbol’s continued use misrepresented, and denigrated, Native American history and culture.
This policy statement, written in 1971, was the first formal declaration by Native students that the “various traditions and symbols used by the Dartmouth Community are based upon insensitivity to the culture of Native American Peoples.” Believing the symbol was “a mythical creation of a non-Indian culture,” the Native American students requested that the College remove any depiction of Indians from campus and stop using the Indian as a mascot.
The article from October of 1969 notes how in the 200-year history of the College, “only a dozen” Native students graduated from Dartmouth. Without a Native American voice on campus, the symbol became “the major personification of the spirit [of the College.]” In the 1969-1970 school year, the four Native Americans on campus—three of whom were freshmen admitted after the College reaffirmed its commitment to educating Native students—began the fight against the symbol.
This letter was written five years after the College officially removed the symbol. In the letter, the Native American Council mentions that nobody objected to the symbol until it was used for athletic home game jerseys in 1970. Coincidentally, use of the symbol by the sports teams on jerseys overlapped with the admission of more Native American students to Dartmouth, and both of these events likely contributed to the development of the 1971 policy statement.
This article makes it clear that the Dartmouth administration was willing to listen to the claims made by the Native American students in their policy statement. College provost Louis Morton liked “the tone of the document” and thought that it was “a reasonably worded statement.” These words are a reminder that minorities like the Native American students needed to be careful in how they presented their grievances.
The two newspaper articles from 1972, “DCAC To Eliminate Use of Indian Symbol” and “Native Americans’ Requests Honored,” announce some victories on the path to stop using the Indian symbol. “Nine and one half months after receiving the policy statement of the Native Americans at Dartmouth,” the College began the process of removing the symbol from stationary, uniforms, and changed Dartmouth’s nickname from the “Dartmouth Indian” to “Big Green.” Not all requests in the original policy statement, such as removing murals depicting Indians, were honored, and it would be several years until the symbol was completely disused on campus.
In 1974, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees released a statement announcing “use of the [Indian] symbol in any form to be inconsistent with present institutional and academic objectives of the College in advancing Native American education.” The Board took no official action on removing the symbol because the College never formally adopted the symbol. Instead, the Board made it “a matter of individual conscience.” This statement is generally considered the official removal of the Indian symbol since it was the first time that the Board of Trustees discouraged its use.
This article from the Wall Street Journal puts the removal of the symbol in a national context. Around the time of Dartmouth’s removal of the Indian symbol, other schools had moved to abolish similar symbols. Additionally, debates on changing the names of national sports teams that referenced Native Americans, such as the Washington Redskins, were occurring. Native American voices were finally emerging nationally and not solely at Dartmouth. Not all attempts were successful, and Stanford University still had a Native American man dance at games even after the symbol was abolished.
In this letter to an undergraduate student in 1974, Assistant Dean of the Faculty Gregory Prince advocated for understanding the Native American position on removing the unofficial symbol and mascot. The student, it may be assumed from Prince’s response, was not receptive to listening to the Native American students and was sympathetic to keeping it. The letter demonstrates that while many were sensitive to listening to the Native Americans in wanting to change the symbol, some students were not quick or willing to see the removal of the symbol.
In a letter to an undated freshman class, likely at the end of the 1970s, the Native American Council acknowledges that many members of the College community continue to embrace the Indian symbol even after its removal. The Council found it necessary to remind students that continued use of the symbol will “obscure problems never solved,” citing the higher rates of “disease, alcoholism, suicide, and poverty” in Native communities. The letter discourages the symbol’s use, much like the Board of Trustees discouraged its use in 1974, because no official action could be taken to remove a symbol never adopted by the College itself.