It's their right: American Indians should decide team name issue

John Steadman

November 06, 1991|By John Steadman

"Before I judge my neighbor, let me walk a mile in his 1/2 moccasins."

+ -- Sioux Indian Proverb

If the nicknames of American sports teams, be they Braves, Warriors, Redskins, Chiefs or Indians, are offensive to even one member of this proud minority then abolish the practice. It's not worth the hurt, regardless of the intent.

Utilizing Indian references was thought to be praise-worthy, certainly not derisive, but the resulting reaction has been negative among some tribal members and controversy ensues once again over an issue that continues to fester. American Indians have been abused and exploited. They have been rTC mistreated at every turn. The white man's shame.

Why inflict more pain? If altering the names of professional sports organizations and college teams provides a balm for the damage that has been done then by all means implement the effort. Whatever makes them happy. Not in a condescending way but merely because it's the humane and decent thing to do.

the Atlanta Braves, Golden State Warriors, Washington Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Indians do what's proper they will find new names for themselves -- ones that don't register as offensive to any citizen. It would be a small inconvenience.

The clubs need only to change their business stationery, uniforms and the souvenirs they sell to arrive at an amicable solution. This would please American Indians. There's so much money in major-league sports that there's not even a justifiable reason for discussion.

In college ranks, as a mere mention, the Bradley Braves, Florida State Seminoles, Mississippi College Choctaws, South East Missouri State Indians, Ripon Redmen and, possibly, the San Diego State Aztecs, among others, should purge their nicknames and be receptive to accepting new designations. It's a break with tradition, but that's been done before.

Stanford, Dartmouth, William & Mary and Mankato State were once known as the Indians. They took different identities.

Stanford is the Cardinal, Dartmouth the Big Green, William & Mary the Tribe and Mankato the Mavericks. Eastern Michigan University, formerly called the Hurons, is now the Eagles. Central Michigan University remains the Chippewas, but a name change is under review at the school. Its logo has been revised, from an arrow to a block-C for Central.

If the American Irish took exception to Notre Dame using Fighting Irish then you know it would be changed, regardless of tradition. Notre Dame could merely go back to its original name, the Ramblers. And the same for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers or the Swarthmore Little Quakers, the Union College Dutchmen or the Wooster College Fighting Scots.

The original objective wasn't to offend or disturb. To the 'N contrary. Most of the names were conferred as a matter of what the white man thought would convey pride. But ethnic and religious linkage to sports teams is a sensitive subject, measured by personal preference.

Suzan Harjo, president of the Morning Star Foundation, and of Cheyenne/Muscogee ancestry, is interested in the cultural, educational and environmental aspects of the American Indian cause. She deeply resents the names of sports teams, such as the Redskins, trading off the Indians, and rejects any suggestion that it might be a tribute. Her position is steadfast.

"When Hispanics wanted to get rid of the Frito Bandito, we stood with them," she said. "When blacks wanted to get rid of Sambo, we stood with them. You know when something is offensive when you see it, and there is no question here. If the team

was the Washington Blackfaces or the Washington Yellowskins, not a person would say, 'I'm honored.' You'd have a race riot."

Perception and individual feelings regulate the reaction. A call to Jim Grant, athletic director of the American Indian Bible College in Phoenix, offered a contrasting view. "We call our teams the Warriors," he said. "Our enrollment is about 94 percent Native Americans. The students picked the name. I asked several of them the other day if they wanted it changed and they said to leave it alone. Two dozen or so of them were doing the 'chop' at a basketball game."

So, again, it comes around to taste. But it's blatantly presumptuous for we non-Native Americans to say what we believe is best for the Indian. The decision is theirs; not ours. It may seem trivial to the white man but not to the country's original landowners.

"Before I judge my neighbor, let me walk a mile in his moccasins."

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