MINNESOTA — MINNEAPOLIS -- The tomahawk chop is not popular in these parts, where Native Americans do not take kindly to the appropriation and misrepresentation of their heritage. The Atlanta Braves and their fans might mean no disrespect, but they were the focus of a protest rally held outside the Metrodome before last night's opening game of the 88th World Series.
America's baseball team has become a political football. The mayor of Minneapolis, Don Fraser, has joined Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and a coalition of civil rights organizations in denouncing the Braves organization for fostering a demeaning stereotype of Indians.
The American Indian Movement has called on Braves owner Ted Turner to change the name of the team and discourage fans from further activities the group feels demean Native American culture.
Their complaint is not a new one. There are a number professional sports teams whose nicknames play on Indian themes, including the Washington Redskins and Chicago Blackhawks. Several colleges -- for instance, Stanford University have dropped Indian-related nicknames to show sensitivity to the plight of Native Americans.
But the World Series provided the perfect pulpit for representatives of Minnesota's significant Native American population, and several hundred protesters showed up at Chicago and 6th streets yesterday afternoon to lend support.
"We want Ted Turner to meet with us and to put a stop to this stupid, ignorant, racist behavior," said Clyde Bellecourt, president of AIM. "Why don't they just call them the Atlanta Bishops? They don't issue crucifixes when people come in the gate. They don't wave crucifixes when someone hits a homer. Why don't they call them the Klansmen, so they can all wear
sheets? How would the American people feel about that? During the seventh-inning stretch, they could hang Jews and blacks. Well, that's how we feel when we see our sacred feathers used like that."
The protest was peaceful and, in a strange sense, pro-baseball. Some of the placards displayed pro-AIM sentiments on one side and "Go Twins" on the other. Rally organizers said that there was no intent to disrupt the World Series.
Braves president Stan Kasten has declined to comment on the situation until after the World Series.
Liberal activist Jane Fonda, who is engaged to Turner, has come under heavy criticism for her very visible participation in the Braves bleacher ritual.
"We can't understand Jane Fonda, a great friend of the American Indian Movement who stood with us at wounded knee, seeing her doing a double tomahawk chop," Bellecourt said.
Yesterday, however, Fonda promised she would stop doing the chop.
"I don't believe I've betrayed their cause," she said. "I support them very much. But I'm sorry it offends them and I'm not going to do it anymore."