Now that the Cleveland Indians are back in the World Series, their logo has come back under the spotlight for being offensive to many Native Americans. It brings me back to the 1991 World Series, when the Minnesota Twins faced the self-proclaimed, "America’s Team," the Atlanta Braves.
For the second question, let’s look at a few Native American team names and logos; the Cleveland Indians. Chicago Blackhawks, UND Fighting Sioux, and the Warroad Warriors.
A predecessor of Chief Wahoo started appearing in a Cleveland newspaper in the 1930’s. In 1947, the Indians decided to adopt "the Little Indian" into their logo and a yellow skinned, big nosed caricature of an American Indian was created (seen here) and was later dubbed "Chief Wahoo." The current Chief Wahoo logo was created in 1951.
The first owner of the Chicago hockey team had been a commander in the 86th Infantry Division named the "Black Hawk Division" named to honor Sauk Indian leader Black Hawk, so the team became the Black Hawks. Obviously it’s a bit muddy as to whom is supposedly being honored, Black Hawk or the owner’s old infantry unit. The Blackhawks logo has undergone some minor changes but has remained pretty much the same through the years.
There have been protests and calls for the Blackhawks to change their name and logo but not like there have been against the Cleveland Indians or Washington Redskins. I think in part it’s because neither their name nor their logo appear to be intended as a slur. The other part may be because the Blackhawks work with Native American groups such as the American Indian Center to educate the public about Native American history and invite Native American military veterans to participate in their opening ceremonies.
UND Fighting Sioux
UND’s logo has basically been an Indian chief design, except for the unfortunate "Sammy Sioux" design, and has undergone some changes (see picture here). It was even a slightly modified Blackhawks logo for almost 30 years. The 1999 "Legacy" logo was designed by a Native American artist from ND, but the name and the school have no direct relation to the Sioux tribes.
Warroad is "HockeyTown USA." Five different cities across North America claim to be "HockeyTown," but only Warroad has produced five Olympic medals, no US Olympic hockey team has won a medal without at least one player from Warroad on the team, and they’ve been "HockeyTown" the longest.
So it seems some of the factors involved are:
- Whether or not the nickname or logo is seen as offensive or mocking like Redskins or Chief Wahoo.
- What the original motivation was for the team name was, it’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to the Blackhawks, but clearly not with the Warriors.
- What the team is doing to work with and involve Native Americans today. It’s probably helped the Blackhawks, but the "Legacy" logo was probably too little, too late for UND.
It’s not for me to say when Native Americans should object to a team’s nickname or logo or not. I have not experienced their history, or their lives as a result of that legacy. The idea that monozygotic siblings would rise up and complain about being used as a mascot for the Twins or Scandinavians worried that Viktor is mocking their culture is so remote that no comparison could be made anyway. But I do think Cleveland, baseball, and all of us would be better off if they changed their name to something else. What was wrong with "Spiders" anyway?