10. The Relationship Changes and Strengthens

As the 1990s began, a new type of relationship developed between Miami University and the Miami Tribe: a relationship that was based on a new method of honoring the Miami Tribe—through education. Educational programs were offered on campus that presented information about the contemporary Miami Tribe—people who were not warriors and who did not appear in regalia and feathers and ride horses in daily life.

Financial assistance was provided for accepted Miami Tribe students and one graduate and two undergraduate Tribal students entered in August 1991. From 1991-2013 over ninety Myaamia students attended Miami University. In March 2012, events were organized on campus that celebrated twenty years of Miami Tribe students enrolled at Miami University. Fourteen of those graduates, along with Chief Tom Gamble, are pictured in the photo below.14 Miami Tribe graduates pose with Chief Tom Gamble in 2012

Mascot Controversy and 1993 Open Forum

Dr. Paul Risser arrived as the new Miami University President in 1992 and soon the controversy of the use of a Native American mascot became an issue he tried to address. He implemented a strategy that organized a public forum with scores of speakers to discuss the ongoing controversy. The Redskin Resolution story (PDF) was printed in The Miamian, winter 1993-94. The article provides a complete explanation of the open forum process that occurred in November 1993 plus the President’s Decision following the forum. Running along the bottom of the six-page article is a timeline about Miami’s use of athletic mascots from 1809-1993.

In an article written years later about this experience, Risser explained his motivation for the forum was to demonstrate the “educational value” of informed discourse and debate. In hindsight he admits the notion “that somehow a group of diverse people would ever arrive at a consensus on such an emotionally charged issue is simply unrealistic.” One outcome of the forum was the Committee on Relationships Between Miami University and the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma.

This committee researched and presented several recommendations for strengthening the relationship with the Miami Tribe including things like increasing academic and exchange visit opportunities, heightening the recruitment of Native students, faculty and staff, offering Native scholarships, appointing a staff member the task of working with the Miami Tribe on a regular basis, and addressing the negativity associated with the use of Native images or references on campus.  

Redskins to Redhawks

For almost 25 years, Miami University asked for and used the support of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma as a major justification for their continued use of the term Redskins and the portrayal of a Native mascot. Interestingly, it was the Miami Tribe that was the determining factor that finally altered this situation.

The general membership of the Miami Tribe passed a resolution at their July 1996 Annual Meeting asking Miami University to end this controversy by making a mascot name change. Part of the resolution reads:

WHEREAS: We realize that society changes, and that what was intended to be a tribute to both Miami University, and to the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, is no longer perceived as positive by some members of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, Miami University, and society at large; and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma can no longer support the use of the nickname Redskins and suggest that the Board of Trustees of Miami University discontinue the use of Redskins or other Indian related names, in connection with its athletic teams, effective with the end of the 1996-97 academic school year.

In September 1996, the Miami University Board of Trustees voted to discontinue the use of Redskins out of respect for the Miami Tribe. A committee chaired by President Emeritus Phillip R. Shriver solicited outside opinions for a new name and received over 600 different suggestions to consider. Eventually it was narrowed down to two final recommendations—ThunderHawks and RedHawks.

Miami University President Dr. James Garland gave several reasons for the final selection of RedHawks. “The Red-tailed Hawk, unlike the Thunderhawk, is a real animal and that appealed to many people. The Red-tailed Hawk is indigenous to both the State of Ohio and the State of Oklahoma. The hawk is a predator; it is a dominant species; it has a reputation for being fierce, strong, soaring; and it conveys the kind of spirit that is appropriate to athletic competition. Lastly, the hawk is used in Indian culture but is not considered offensive."

Miami University made the change to RedHawks in 1997-98. Two other Mid-American Conference schools, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, also made name changes.
By 2002, more than 600 schools had discontinued the use of a Native American mascot. Criticism continued, and organizations like the American Psychological Association spoke out against the negative effects that Native American mascots produce. When the NCAA took a strong stance against Native mascots and images in 2006, it pushed several other schools to follow suit and make name changes or eliminate mascots. Collectively, multiple sources have agreed that honorable intentions are not enough when they are applied to an unworthy idea.

Miami Indian symbol transforms gradually to the new Redhawk symbol. Words in image: Old Miami! New Miami! Days of old and days to be; Weave the story of thy glory/ Our Miami, here's to thee!