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Local American Indian groups express excitement, optimism for new Cleveland Guardians moniker

American Indian Guardians
Posted at 4:08 PM, Jul 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 18:59:12-04

CLEVELAND — American Indian groups have protested for years trying to get the Cleveland Indians to change the team's name. Now, with the announcement that the team will replace its name and logo as part of the Cleveland Guardians, local leaders of American Indian organizations expressed their excitement and optimism.

“This is a new chapter for Cleveland moving forward,” said Jeff Pierce, spokesperson for the Ohio American Indian Movement. “Hopefully, everyone can accept the decision as we have and hopefully we can all work together and we can support the team in the same capacity the fans had for years.”

Pierce also serves as the director for the Cleveland American Indian Education Center and as executive director for People Not Mascots.

The team had taken steps over the past several years to try to reduce disrespectful imagery, including phasing out Chief Wahoo, and announcing fans would no longer be allowed to wear headdresses or face paint styled in a way that references or appropriates Native American cultures and traditions.

The Lake Erie Native American Council told News 5 it is pleased with the team's name change. Now, the group is calling on nearly 200 schools in Ohio with native mascots to follow suit.

On Opening Day 2021, News 5 spoke with Sundance, Executive Director of the Cleveland American Indian Movement, who was part of the protests outside Progressive Field, even after the team announced it would eventually change the name.

“I'll believe it when we see it,” he said at the time.

In the same spot, News 5 asked him about what the name change meant to him.

“I think this is the first step to healing a wound that’s been festering in Northeast Ohio for such a long time,” he said. “I do plan to attend a game. I'm not going to say I'm going to attend a game next season. It is a fresh wound and we need to give the wound some time to heal. Once that wound is healed, I will certainly be attending a game.”

This is the fifth name in team history.

As for their opinion on the new name?

“I like the Guardians,” Sundance said.

“I think it’s really cool,” Pierce added. “What represents Cleveland more than art deco architecture? I think it’s awesome.”

“Those are works of art over there,” said Robert Roche, director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio. “They are masterpieces and it’s time for a new era.”

While the name change goes into effect at the end of this season, the work doesn’t end for these groups.

“We want legal control of the legal rights to the name,” Pierce added. “Not to use it. We’ll never use it or profit from it. We want to make sure they don’t for commemorative merchandise.”

A team spokesperson said they’re still going to sell items with Chief Wahoo and the Indians name for historical purposes, but the plan moving forward is for those proceeds to go toward Native American programs, organizations and other groups underrepresented in the Cleveland area. A formal list of those organizations has not been released.