Most of us are familiar with the controversy surrounding team names such as the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians. Many Americans know that the University of North Dakota officially dropped “the fighting Sioux” as its sports team’s moniker and banished their iconic logo. But, how many folks are aware of the brouhaha brewing at the University of Denver?
What is the issue, you ask? It’s twofold. One, the school’s “Pioneers” nickname, and, two, Daniel Boone masks. Seriously. Native American students at the university claim the nickname represents “genocide and oppression.” Last fall, the Native American Student Alliance embarked on a campaign to force the school to rid itself of the allegedly offensive appellation. The group’s co-president told the school’s newspaper, The Clarion, that the term is “associated with westward expansion, genocide, oppression, and assimilation of Native American students.” She added: “Pioneer does not represent the spirit of the students on this campus.”
Daniel Boone served as the institution’s unofficial mascot for many years- and for obvious reasons. He was a legendary pioneer who discovered the “Cumberland Gap” allowing much quicker, easier, and safer passage through the Appalachians to The West. Though students and alumni overwhelmingly wanted to keep Boone in that role, the school retired him in 2013, deeming him too much of a “polarizing figure.” Still, some students- and alumni- have continued to recognize Boone as their mascot, prompting the university to reverse an earlier decision allowing students to appear as the famous character. Starting January 1st, the school launched a new policy forbidding the use of masks on university property, “for the safety of all DU community members and guests,” essentially putting in place a de facto ban on the intrepid explorer. The ban offers exceptions for “covering any part of the face for religious reasons; wearing protective equipment while engaged in a sport or responding to an emergency or safety situation; engaging in a theatrical production or similar University sanctioned event; or wearing a mask for protection from weather or medical reasons.”
Interesting that the first exception is for “religious reasons.” What religion would that accommodate? Maybe it’s for “safety” reasons. And, here’s a theoretical question: could students participating in a “theatrical production” about the Old West or American explorers wear a Daniel Boone mask? The original version of the mask policy allowed for additional exceptions for those requesting them from the Office of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence. Yet, when The Campus Fix asked a university spokesman whether the new policy would allow students to request an exception to wear a Boone mask, it was told: “While many policies allow for review of exceptions, a policy to protect the safety of community members and guests shall have, appropriately, no exceptions.” Except, of course, to allow for hijabs.
The university adopted the nickname “Pioneers” in 1925, and, after repeatedly changing mascots, settled on a Walt Disney designed mascot called “Boone,” who was based on the Disney character “Pioneer,” and was officially adopted by the school in 1968. Forty-five years later, DU officials decided that no mascot was better than one representing America’s frontier heritage.
Synonyms for “pioneer” include: adventurer, pathfinder, searcher, seeker, and traveler. Sometimes, however, antonyms of a word or concept can be an even better indicator of what that word or concept means or represents. Antonyms of pioneer include: secondary, following, last, late, and later.
Boone’s daring exploits and frontier spirit made him one of his country’s earliest folk heroes. In today’s America, it makes him a pariah. If we in the United States- and The West in general- don’t search for a new path soon, it will be too late.
And, the only thing we’ll have left to discover…is that we inexplicably squandered a peerless heritage.
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