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As I was leaving Las Vegas Friday after a week covering the National Center for American Indian Economic Development’s Reservation Economic Summit (RES) and the National Indian Gaming Association's Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention, I was greeted with a nice email with positive news that the Cleveland Major League Baseball team is changing its name from the “Indians” to the “Guardians.”

The name change comes one year after the Washington National Football League (NFL) team dropped the offensive “Redsk*ns” name after using a name which is considered racist by the vast majority of American Indians. Last year, the retirement of the racist name after 87 years of misappropriation was even more refreshing because the team’s owner Dan Snyder was quoted as saying “we will never change the name of the team.” Well, never came and the world didn’t end. 

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The fight to have the "Indians" name dropped by the team began more than 50 years ago by the Cleveland American Indian Movement (AIM) in response to the wishes of the local Native community, elders and leaders in the Nations, according to the organization's website. 

In my personal view, the logo of the Chief Wahoo that the Cleveland team retired, a silly looking Native, was one of the most offensive and disrespectful caricatures ever used by a professional sports team. Proponents often say it is an honor for a team to use American Indian imagery or a Native name. Chief Wahoo provided no honor to American Indians. Fortunately, the team dropped the caricature by the beginning of the 2019 baseball season. Here again, the world didn’t end. 

Even with Chief Wahoo gone, the team still felt pressure from American Indians to drop the name. Last December, the team announced it would retire the “Indians” name. 

On Friday, the team announced its new name in a statement, which read in part: 

“The name change process started in June 2020 with a statement acknowledging the importance of taking a leadership role in uniting our community. We conducted an extensive multi-phase process to learn how the team name ‘Indians’ impacted different constituencies and how it intersected with our organizational values.”

Praise came from the National Congress of American Indians, IllumiNative – a nonprofit created to challenge negative stereotypes of American Indians – and the American Indian College Fund. Cheryl Crazy Bull (Sicangu Lakota), president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund offered this praise:

“I have seen first-hand the harm that mascot names and imagery cause to the self-esteem and self-confidence of our young people. I know only too well what the research proves about the harm the imagery does to them. By selecting a team name and image that reflects a city’s shared values and celebrates all its citizens, the Cleveland Guardians have set a welcome and higher standard for how change can be managed by listening to all community members, including all voices in a shared vision, and helping a city, an enterprise, and citizens grow as they move forward.”

Not everyone was happy about the progress. 

The name change compelled Sheriff Bruce Zuchowski, of Cleveland’s neighboring Portage County, to make a statement on behalf of what he calls “the silent majority,” a term the failed president Richard Nixon used to call on Americans to support the increasingly unpopular Vietnam war.

To give credence to his statement, the sheriff remarked that his wife is a descendent of the “Cherokee and Blackfoot American Indian Tribe,” a tribe I do not recognize. 

His statement says of his wife: “She and her relatives never viewed the Cleveland Indians as a biased or prejudiced team but rather their hometown baseball franchise. This is once again another attempt of trying to erase our history due to the outcry of the few that affects the many.”

The sheriff, an elected official, continued:

“I have boycotted professional sports for the past three years and if you were to ask me who the starting lineup was for the Indians, I couldn't tell you. Some may question if I don't care to watch or follow their progress, why should I care about their name change? The fact is that the general standpoint is not about this particular position taken by the team but rather the principle of the decision-making process.

These unfortunate decisions are being made while continuously impacting individuals and industries across the nation. Both lawmakers and decision-makers need to begin to think about the majority of their constituents before caving to the impulsive demands being made by a small group of the public.”

American Indians are a small group of the public because of the genocide committed against many of our ancestors. 

His sentiments go beyond the size of the population of American Indians. His statement reads as if he speaks for the majority of non-Natives who allegedly feel American Indians should have no say in things that matter to us or the overall decision-making process.

We are 2-0 over the course of the past 12 months in getting rid of misappropriation of Native names and imagery. The fight continues. 

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About The Author
Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi "Calm Before the Storm" Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected].