The Symbols of St. Bonaventure University
The Brown Indian represented St. Bonaventure University athletics from Fall 1927, its earliest mention in The Laurel, to 1992. The mascot was a source of pride not only for students and alumni but for many members of the Seneca Nation that is located down the road from the University.
The first Bona student to take on the cheerleading role of Brown Indian was John Vetrano in 1961. The Brown Squaw was created in 1967 and first enacted by Andrea Mountain. Coincidentally, this was also the period when former Board of Trustees chair Bill Swan was the Brown Indian. (Bona Venture, 17 Feb. 1984)
It should be noted that throughout the history of the Brown Indian there was controversy as to its appropriateness at the university. In a 1972 Bona Venture news paper article entitled "Brown Indian Name Always Respectable," reporter Greg Johnson interviewed Fr. Cornelius A. Welch, chairman of the Board of Athletics and Executive Vice President. In his interview Welch helps to explain why the Indian was chosen and states, " Since Bonaventure has always respected the Senecas on the Seneca reservation in Salamanca, and have used the symbol for such a long time, we have not had any difficulty." At basketball games the Indian was not used in any sense as a derogatory symbol, for this would not only reflect poorly on the basketball team but also the people who helped to build the school. Fr. Welch explained, "When the buildings were constructed, many of the steel workers were from the Seneca reservation, and, as a result many of the Friars developed friendships with the workers. Fr. Timothy Quinn has a parish in the reservation, which also is a reason for the friendly relations between Bonaventure and the Indians." From this interview one can see that a great deal of respect from the school was shown by using the Indian as the mascot. The thinking of many was that it was a way to show respect and gratitude towards the Seneca people. Fr. Welch adds, "The main use of the Indian at Bonaventure has always been as a team name,..." For many it was considered a privilege to be the school mascot.
In 1991 the University had local artist Carson Waterman, a member of the Seneca nation, paint a more accurate version of the Indian logo. The previous center court image had actually been representative of the Plains Indians, rather than the woodland tribes which the Seneca belong to. "We wanted to avoid things unauthentic or out of character," according to President Neil O'Connell.
As time passed the Brown Indian became a symbol of concern for those at the upper administrative levels of the University. As the 1990's ushered in a new era of cultural times it also brought with it the idea of "Political correctness." Even though the students, alumni, and many of the Seneca understood the Brown Indian and had respected its use at the school, some could not help but ponder what those in the rest of the sporting world were thinking about a school that used such a mascot. Not wanting to bring slander to the school's name, and, even more importantly, hurt the reputation and feelings of the Seneca people, the days of the St. Bonaventure Brown Indian became numbered. After many hard decisions, and long talks with university officials, the University decided to abandon the Indian in 1992 and, a few years later, created the Bona Fanatic.
Page created by David Patt; St. Bonaventure University, for History 419
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