50+ Cleveland Orgs Ask Indians to Change Name, Engage Native American Community

click to enlarge 50+ Cleveland Orgs Ask Indians to Change Name, Engage Native American Community (3)
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The ACLU of Ohio, Black Lives Matter Cleveland, Cleveland Public Theatre, Policy Matters Ohio, the YWCA of Greater Cleveland, multiple community development corporations, faith-based organizations and others have signed a letter calling on Cleveland City Council, Progressive Insurance and corporate sponsors of the Cleveland Indians to pressure the team to change its name and engage with local Native American groups who have steadfastly opposed the name and racist Chief Wahoo logo for decades.

“Over the 60-year history of this movement against these nicknames and logos, we've had many organizations pass resolutions against their use," said Philip Yenyo, Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, in a statement. "Now, as we move forward, we have organizations supporting our community and our coalition. This is truly historic for us all. We thank them for standing up for what is right."

The Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto has written that a name change is all but certain, and that the Indians' owners fully expect to change the name before long. But the local coalition of four Native orgs — the American Indian Movement of Ohio, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, the Lake Erie Native American Council (LENAC), and the Lake Erie Professional Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society — want to ensure that local Native voices aren't excluded from the process. A petition to that effect is now in circulation. 

"We believe that the team needs to immediately engage with Cleveland Native American community groups who, for the last six decades, have fought to remove both the Cleveland Indians name and Chief Wahoo logo," it reads. "We also acknowledge the growing body of scientific research that confirms the trauma and harm being caused by the use of Native American sports mascots, names, and imagery to Native Americans, especially Native Youth—who face suicide rates 3.5 times higher than the national average, and is the second leading cause of death for Native Americans aged 15-24...

"We stand together to demand that the Cleveland Baseball Team honor its promise to engage in meaningful discussion by listening to those most affected, and by changing its name and rebranding away from all Native American themes and tropes, i.e. 'Tribe' or 'Arrows.'"

Indians owner Paul Dolan issued a statement last week committing to engaging with local stakeholders, including Native American leaders, in the ongoing discussion about a name change. 

One of the topsy-turvy straw men arguments lately advanced in the opinion pages of cleveland.com, by former Oklahoma Congressman and Cleveland native Mickey Edwards, was that changing the name would be "offensive – patronizing, condescending," because it would communicate to Native Americans that the name some of them call themselves is itself offensive.

"Speak of hubris. Speak of arrogance. Speak of 'privilege,'" Edwards wrote. "What’s a more repellent exercise of privilege than rich white men telling other people what it’s OK to call themselves?"

This wasn't the name of the Washington football team, for example, which Edwards said he found offensive (and is in fact a dictionary-defined racial slur). No, this was "Indians," the name of a proud and accomplished people!

A logically identical argument would be to defend a team called the "Cleveland African-Americans" on grounds that some Black people prefer to be called African-American while others identify as Black. It's not like we're the Cleveland N-words!!!! (Feel free to note once again that virtually every argument for retaining the Indians' name crumbles the moment it's applied to any other racial or ethnic group: We are *honoring* Arabs!

"Here’s the better answer," Edwards continued. "Do what the Braves and the Chiefs and the Blackhawks and the Florida State Seminoles do. Embrace and honor American Indians because they deserve it. Support the Indian museum and the Indian college fund. Fund scholarships and hire Indians to work for the Indians. There is great poverty on tribal lands where Indians have been exploited and underserved for years. Help them. Thank them for borrowing their name by helping their schools and health care facilities."

These are terrific ideas, and would certainly have been welcome over the past several decades when local Native groups routinely asked for funding from Indians' management to no avail. Had team ownership gestured toward supporting Native American causes, working in partnership with the local Native community and making regular contributions to reservations and cultural history orgs in consultation with them, it might have gone a long way to substantiate the fraudulent post-facto claim that the team name was meant to "honor" Native Americans. But that never happened.

Those gestures would have always had the whiff of reparations for ongoing harm anyway, but there's no denying that they would have been preferable to what transpired in Cleveland, in which there have been no observable attempts by the team to fund or amplify Native American culture, education, health or other issues.

In an ideal world, the Dolans would both change the name and contribute to Native causes, but the most urgent local matter at hand is simply to listen to these groups, who are joined not only by local nonprofits but by more than 100 tribal and civil rights organizations across the country who have called for the elimination of Native mascots.

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Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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