by | Oct 27, 1991 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

ATLANTA — If someone named a sports team the Washington Negroes, you can be sure the black community wouldn’t stand for it.

And if someone named a sports team the Atlanta Jews — had a dancing rabbi as its mascot — the Jewish community would never allow it.

This week, a group of American Indians stood up and complained that enough was enough, all these sports teams named Braves, Redskins, Chiefs — with their whooping, war-painted, tomahawk-waving mascots — this was insulting to their heritage. Please stop.

They were told to sit down, shut up.

In some ways, it was the most shameful scene in sports in a long time: Fulton County Stadium, the World Series, a small band of Indians, holding signs that read, “We Are People, Not Mascots” and “Please Respect Our Culture”
— and they had to be protected by armed guards from angry Braves fans, who were dressed like Indians, painted like Indians, yet were screaming at real Indians, “Get lost!” and “You’re only here for publicity!”

Once again, a great show of compassion from a ticket holder with a beer. Get lost? Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t every one of us a stranger to this land if you go back far enough — every one except the native Americans, the Indians?

Get lost? What happened to our compassion? Before Game 4 of the World Series, an Indian leader named Wabun-Inina (Man of Dawn) pleaded for baseball fans to lay down their toy tomahawks in a pile. “Do the right thing,” he asked.

When I looked, not a single tomahawk had been surrendered.

End the stereotypes

Oh, everyone had an explanation. Like the father who said, “Give it up? I just paid five bucks for this.” Or the beer- belly fellow who yelled, “CUSTER WAS RIGHT!” and giggled at himself as he walked away.

Everyone had an explanation, a justification for ignoring the issue. Here were some of the popular ones:

1) Where were these Indians last year? You might ask the same thing of the
“loyal” Braves fans, who used to hold their noses and pretend the team didn’t exist. The tomahawk chop, the war paint, that annoying chant Braves fans sing
— these weren’t center stage last year. They are now. So the protest is here. What’s surprising about that?

2) Why do they want the team name changed now — after all this time? The fact is, Indians have protested names like Braves, Chiefs and Redskins — can you imagine a team called Blackskins? — for years now. Their protests have largely been ignored.

3) Why are they mad at something that honors them? Since when is it for us to determine what honors someone else? The fact is, real Indians do not paint their faces to be a mascot; face-painting is a sacred ritual. Same goes for chanting and drum beating, which, in Indian culture, are mostly a form of prayer, not a war cry.

“Really?” we say. “We didn’t know that.” Of course not. Most of what we know about Indians comes from cartoons and westerns: whooping, horse-riding, scalp-chasing Injuns. We expect them to fit those stereotypes. That’s like expecting Mexicans to behave like the Frito Bandito.

Do you know what Tonto means?

It means fool in Spanish.

They should be honored with that, right?

Stop the trail of tears

I find this a simple issue. If you are a compassionate person, then you must agree with the Indian protesters and give up the tomahawk, the feathers, the face-painting. You can’t be sensitive to one minority group and not to others.

Or can you? Maybe the saddest sight in Georgia this week was that of laughing black fans who marched past Indian protesters swinging tomahawks and singing, “AHHH-AH-AH-AH-AH- AH” to try and drown out their speeches. Black people did this? In Georgia? A place where, not long ago, there were restaurants named Sambo’s, and water fountains that read “white” and

Shame on them. And on all of us who for some reason figure the sympathy runs out when it comes to sports. “We’re just having fun,” we say. But it’s not fun if it hurts. And this is hurting a lot of people, who, sadly, have had the stuffing kicked out of them ever since we set foot on their land.

In the 1830s, white settlers took the entire Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations and literally moved them out of the way, marched them to Oklahoma, where they began a slow and steady death. Indians call this
“The Trail of Tears.”

Today, when we ought to know better, we show the same kind of cruelty.

“GO HOME!” a fan screamed this week.

“We are home,” answered an Indian.

He’s right. But how would you ever know?


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