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Ottawa Tribe, OU have long history

Published: Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Updated: Saturday, February 14, 2009 12:02

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Eric Duderstadt, senioor, at Convocation

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Stacy Scott, OU aalumnae, instruct twon young Indians during a pow wow in Miami Oklahoma, earler this month. OU and OTTAWA Indians have a long history

Since the early 20th century, Ottawa University has named its athletic teams the Braves. The school mascot also derives from the tribe's history with the school and has taken two forms: a student in Indian dress called "Giego" and an otter named Gibby.

The otter is considered the Ottawa tribe's sacred animal, while Giego is said to be a very prestigious symbol of the actual spirit of the Ottawa Indian.

In 2004, Indian activists asked Ottawa University to reconsider its mascot. According to an article in the Nov. 8, 2004 issue of the Lawrence Journal World, hough school officials say the mascot respects the tribe, American Indian activists say it is offensive.

"I am an Indian. I'm Adawe, which if you don't know, is Ottawa Indian," Stacy Scott, 2006 alumnae, said. "I don't want anyone, non-Indian or Indian, telling me what to take as an insult. I have always felt that they believe I'm not smart enough to know when I've been insulted."

However, changing mascots can have a powerful influence on a school's identity. People recognize a school by its mascot, and as a sort of school logo, the mascot is key to a school's image. Many of Ottawa University's student-athletes find inspiration in identifying as Braves.

"So far the Ottawa Tribe and Ottawa University have not shown any sign that they will be changing the mascot and I support this decision, but I can say I am proud to have been called a Brave under both the flag of the school and the flag of the tribe," Scott said.

The relationship between Ottawa University and the Ottawa tribe is a long one. Ottawa University had its beginning in the 1830s because of Baptist missionaries Rev. Jotham Meeker and his wife Eleanor and their connection to the Ottawa Indian tribes. During the early frontier days, they devoted themselves to living with the Ottawa Indians and bringing them Christianity and education.

In 1837, the Meekers came to Franklin County to serve the Ottawa Indians. They spent the rest of their lives settled among the Indians on the banks of the Marais Des Cynes River, at a point south and east of the Wal-Mart Distribution Center. The entire time the Meekers worked with the Ottawans, Jotham kept a daily journal. His journal has provided a history illustrating the development of the Meekers' relationship with the tribe. The entry for June 17, 1844, reads as follows: "The water having left out house, … we remove into it… Nothing left but the dwelling house and office [and these were badly damaged and full of mud and debris]." The journal now resides at the state historical society office in Topeka. A copy is available at OU's Myers Library.

Jotham Meeker's work with Ottawans can be classified into five areas of service: minister, doctor, teacher, agent and friend. The Indians had a strong distrust of the white missionaries at first because of forced resettlements and broken promises in the past. Through it all, Meeker was patient and worked side by side with the Indians daily to earn their trust. By the second year, Meeker had two converts.

Gradually during the time he was here, his work as minister paid off. By the time Jotham Meeker died in 1855, 122 members of the tribe had been baptized. The grieving Ottawans told many that Meeker truly loved their nation and that "surely another Mr. Meeker will never come to us."

Because the Ottawas respected the Meekers, when the tribe moved to Miami, Okla., they provided 20,000 acres of land to fund a school for the Meekers' church. In turn, the church promised to ensure the education of the Ottawa children,. The agreement was made by a treaty with the US government. Ottawa University is located on part of this land given in honor of the Meekers. Now, 150 years after Meeker's death, the Ottawa Tribe's home remains in Miami, OK.

Ottawa University was officially established in 1865. Tecumseh Jones, better known as "Tauy" Jones, was the founder of the University. Jones was involved in handling the funds for the school in the early days of its existence. The primary source of funding for the school came as a result of the Ottawa Indians' land treaty.

In 1860, the Baptists agreed to build and operate the school with a promise to provide free education to the Ottawa Indians. However, B. Smith Haworth writes that few Indians could take advantage of the arrangement. William E. Unrau and Craig Miner write that the agreement itself was later found by the US government to be fraudulent.

Today, a few members of the Ottawa Tribe are enrolled as students at Ottawa University each year. The University continues to provide tuition-free undergraduate education to descendants of the Kansas Ottawa Indians.

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