ODO GUARDIANS HAT and commanders have in common? Both project enough moxie for sports fans to rally around, and neither is offensive. The commanders are the former Washington Redskins, an American football team; the Guardians are the baseball team formerly known as the Cleveland Indians. These are the latest examples of the cleansing of Native American imagery from organized sports. In a video voiced by Tom Hanks, Cleveland’s name change is described as history’s march forward, from racism to justice. For some Native Americans, it’s not that simple.
Brenda Bremner, former executive director of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, has a closet full of Warriors and Braves shirts. His parents met at the Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, and his father played for the Chemawa Braves. “We proudly wore Indian-like logos,” she says. In 2017, it became illegal for public schools in Oregon to have Native American mascots, logos or team names, but an exception – requested by Ms Bremner – allowed schools to keep their mascots concluding agreements with local tribes. Eight school districts have done so.
Similar legislation is now in the Massachusetts Senate, and the city of Dartmouth is wondering what to do with its high school team, the Indians. Is the Indian logo racist (causing “shame, horror and harm,” as critics said at a school board meeting this week)? A non-binding referendum is scheduled for April 5.
The Pocasset Wampanoag tribe, who lived in this area when the Pilgrims landed in 1620, are divided on the issue. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe opposes the Dartmouth Indian logo. But 22 members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe signed a letter in defense of her. The image was drawn by a member of the tribe. “The symbol is not disrespectful,” Aquinnah’s Sean Carney said at a previous school committee meeting on March 8. In a separate letter, the Aquinnah president said the ban was trying to eliminate Indigenous people from “today’s culture and society.”
Mr. Carney doesn’t like the Redskins or Chief Wahoo, the cartoonish mascot of the Cleveland Indians. The detrimental effects of such images on students have been well documented, which is why Maine banned such mascots in 2019, and why a new law in Colorado will fine any public school with a name or logo. unacceptable native team fee of $25,000 per month starting in June. But the Dartmouth Indian is not Chief Wahoo.
Statewide bans are a crude instrument. What many tribes want above all else is meaningful consultation on decisions made ostensibly in their name. The local approach worked. University of Utah athletes continue to call themselves Utes, with the endorsement of real Utes, in exchange for lesson plans and scholarships for tribal members. It’s similar with the Florida State University Seminoles. Bias is the problem, says Bremner, “and you don’t get rid of bias without an education.”
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This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the title “Pride and Prejudice”