Monday, December 14, 2009

Extolling the Seminoles

So after I wrote this post I realized that I was kind of writing about pool. And I don't know if I think of pool as a sport. I didn't have a tag for it--not that that means that much. I kind of mentioned football so I am going with that. I just needed a jumping off point to get to my social commentary/soapbox and have decided that I don't really want to get into a debate about the "what makes a sport" criteria this morning.

Not the collegiate football team in Florida, but the actual nation of American Indians.
I was watching ever so briefly yesterday evening a Women's Professional Billiards Event (and, by the way, I turned it on when my onscreen guide said "Pool" was on ESPN and I was surprised--pleasantly--to see that it was women's pool; usually the unmodified on ESPN means it's a men's event. But then of course that gets me thinking about why billiards is segregated by gender in the first place...) Anyway, the event was happening in Florida at the Seminole Hard Rock Cafe and Casino. It's not that it was held at a casino that is owned by an American Indian nation--I am not naive. But it was curious that there was an advertisement that almost looked/felt like a PSA about the Seminoles. And it was a strange advertisement in that it featured Seminoles doing things that we stereotypically associate with Native American cultures like pow-wows and other cultural celebrations. But they also talked about accomplishments and showed a lot of nice-looking high-rise casinos and hotels. And then there was a line about how the Seminoles are an "unconquered people." Curious. Because Chief Osceola, one of the most recognized Seminoles (largely because of the invocation of his person by Florida State who uses them as their mascot) was captured as he lead a small (100ish) band of resisters to US forces trying to remove the Seminoles from their land during the Second Seminole War. He was actually captured under false pretenses by US government forces when he was told they wanted to meet with him to discuss a resolution to the conflict. He was transferred to a jail in South Carolina where he died of malaria three months later. And I am sure if you ask the Seminoles who live in Oklahoma, where they were forced to relocate, how unconquered they have been historically, they might have a different response.
But it seems the Seminoles in Florida--or at least the people who speak for the Seminole nation in Florida--the ones who granted Florida State permission to use one of their chiefs as a mascot at their football games and on their seat cushions, are into the self-promotion via casinos and pool. There was a Seminole Pro Tour this past year which was a series of 10-ball events throughout the southeastern United States. This WPBA event that was actually held in mid-November, was the culmination of said tour.
I don't know all the issues around Native American casinos, but I know they are controversial within Native American communities, and I certainly see why. I do not expect Native communities to have some kind of coherence that no other identity-based community has, so I understand the discord. But this advertisement and the whole billiards and casino thing and then the advertisement for Seminoles, I guess--or Seminole culture, set off a string of thought that I cannot quite grasp at this time. But I think the situation raises interesting questions on what is native culture, who gets to decide and the issues of tradition, historical discrimination, and economic prosperity--especially its tie to social capital.

No comments: