The Ralph Engelstad Arena, a sports arena on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks, N.D., features thousands of American Indian head logos that are the subject of a recent North Dakota Supreme Court case in Bismarck. This logo is inlaid in the arena's front lobby, with a statue of Engelstad overlooking it. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)
Tetona Dunlap is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana. She is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone tribe from the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
The other day I was eating lunch with two friends in the cafeteria at the University of Montana. It was crowded as it often is around noon, students filled tables while chatting loudly, the sound of utensils clattering against ceramic plates. However, no matter how crowded or noisy, none of us at our table could help but notice the grinning red face across the room.
Seated at the table next to us was a guy wearing a Cleveland Indians T-shirt and baseball cap. His back was to us, but emblazoned across it was Chief Wahoo. All of us at the table were from different tribes, but we are all equally offended by this stereotypical and racist image smirking at us as we ate. We made sarcastic remarks like, “Is that what we look like?” noting its red face, big nose and sky-high feather. We laughed at its absurdity, our laughter blending with the laughter of our fellow students enjoying their lunch.
When I first learned that the North Dakota State Board of Education ordered the University of North Dakota to drop its Fighting Sioux mascot, I was overjoyed. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association banned college logos and nicknames it considered “hostile and abusive.” Read the rest of this entry »
Cleveland Indians fans with Chief Wahoo signs. (AP photo)
The Cleveland Indians, that is.
Ed Rice of Orono, Maine, wrote “Baseball’s First Indian, Louis Sockalexis” in 2003 and “Native Trailblazer, Andrew Sockalexis” in 2008 and he’s long championed a change in team nicknames and mascots – starting with the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo.
The name, he writes in this column for the Bangor (Maine) Daily News, supposedly “honors” Louis Sockalexis, who was Penobscot from Maine, who is generally considered the first Native American to have played Major League baseball, in 1897.
As he writes:
…Why do they make players of color wear a symbol they would never consider wearing if it represented a person of their own race? Why do they make any player with a conscience wear something he can’t possibly be comfortable about appearing in public wearing? My own personal “Field of Dreams” moment for the Cleveland franchise would be the arrival of a player with conscience who refuses to wear that symbol on his uniform — whether he’s a Native American player, like Jacoby Ellsbury, Joba Chamberlain or Kyle Lohse, or just a player with integrity.”
The Penobscot Tribe has, in a resolution, asked the team to stop using the Chief Wahoo caricature. That was years ago and the franchise has yet to acknowledge that resolution.
Rices urges Maine to set an example for Cleveland by abolishing offensive team nicknames and mascots within the state.
Native American storyteller and University of Maine Native American Studies program direction John Bear Mitchell once noted to me that I should not focus so much of my energy on national targets — like Sports Illustrated magazine, the Baseball Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Indians — and work to make our state more aware and more proactive on these matters. “It starts from the center of the circle, Ed, not outside it,” he explained.
In the meantime, he urges people to call the Cleveland Indians and demand that they respond to the Penobscot resolution. He supplies the number and we’re happy to reprint it: 216-420-4200.
As Rice says, don’t stop calling until the team responds!
It appears to be a day for posts about things delayed. First, the Cobell case; then the interminable indecision on federal recognition for Little Shell Chippewa. Now there’s this story about Maine – finally – giving official recognition to the man believed to be the first Native American to play major league ball.
Yesterday, the Penobscot tribe honored both Louis Sockalexis, who played for Cleveland Spiders in 1897, and his cousin, Andrew, who placed fourth in the marathon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Louis could throw a baseball across the Penobscot River; Andrew trained in the winter on that same frozen river, running with spikes on his shoes, according to this Boston Globe story. The Maine Legislature honored the two last month.
But Penobscot leaders say the National Baseball Hall of Fame still won’t acknowledge Louis Sockalexis as the first Native player in the majors, and Sports Illustrated omitted the cousins from its 1999 list of 50 greatest Maine athletes. The Globe reports that the Hall of Fame plans no changes, and that Sports Illustrated calls its list “very subjective,” and says it’ll consider the cousins for future lists. The story also talks about the controversy over the Penobscot request that the Cleveland Indians stop using the mascot Chief Wahoo.
Meanwhile, honoring the Sockalexis cousins is nothing new for the Penobscot. They just wish the rest of world – especially the sports world – would, too. “It’s all part of honoring our ancestors, and making sure they get the respect they are due,” Chief Kirk Francis tells the Globe.