The Cleveland Major League Baseball team will no longer be known as the Indians after the 2021 season.
The nickname Native Americans have long called racist and demeaning has been used by the team since 1915. The decision comes after the NFL’s Washington football team dropped its former nickname in July — which was also decried by Native Americans — amid the larger conversation around racial justice in the U.S.
The move by the Cleveland baseball team is a long time coming, says Sundance, a Muskogee person who is the executive director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, or AIM.
“Cleveland AIM in particular, we have been working on this for half a century. So it's not a moment too soon,” he says. “We hope that everything that happens will be positive, but we are a little dubious as well.”
Native American advocates like Sundance are remaining skeptical of what the name change could mean. Before the 2019 season, Cleveland began phasing out usage of its mascot, “Chief Wahoo,” which many Native Americans considered a racist caricature.
It took so long for Cleveland to abandon the name because of a conflicting narrative around what it meant, Sundance says. The team said the name honored Native Americans while Native people viewed it as an injustice.
“We are by every measure the poorest people in the country. We have no purchase power, and to be honest with you, the baseball team was masterful in weaving this narrative that basically indoctrinated fans to think that they were somehow honoring Indigenous people,” he says. “Certainly, we see it just the opposite.”
Cleveland’s baseball team and Washington’s NFL team aren’t the only ones that have used racially insensitive Native mascots, Sundance says. Other professional teams in cities such as Atlanta, Kansas City and Chicago have faced criticism for their names.
In Ohio, a number of secondary school mascots that are offensive to Indigenous Americans need to change, he adds.
Fans of Cleveland’s MLB team have been mostly supportive of his group’s work to change the name, which included talking to people in the stands at games about why the name is offensive to Native people, Sundance says.
“At the stadium, we do talk with fans who are against the name change, but their arguments are not really coherent. And especially on opening day, where many of them are inebriated, their arguments are incoherent,” he says. “So for us, everybody has the right to be wrong. Our issue really is with institutional racism.”
This segment aired on December 14, 2020.