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Northeast Ohio Native American organizations call for Cleveland Indians to change name

Photos: A look back at the 2016 Cleveland Indians season
Posted at 2:02 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-06 14:02:10-04

CLEVELAND — Four Northeast Ohio Native American organizations have issued statements regarding the Cleveland Indians announcement to discuss changing the team name and are all pushing for the team to move forward with the decision to change the name after decades of fighting for the name change.

The American Indian Movement of Ohio, the Lake Erie Professional Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, and the Lake Erie Native American Council have all come together to encourage the team to change the name and “eliminate harmful and racist Native American sports mascots, names, and imagery.”

Cynthia Connolly, a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians and Executive Board Member of the Lake Erie Native American Council, said that the city leaders should be pushing for the name change.

“Last month, Cleveland City Council passed legislation declaring racism a public health crisis. Once Mayor Jackson signs it, the city will be bound by CDC requirements to eliminate the conditions that cause Clevelanders of color to have worse health than white Clevelanders,” Connolly said. “If this city is serious about this work, our leaders must call for the professional baseball team to end the use of all Indigenous themes and imagery.”

Josh Hunt, Cheyenne and Vice-Chair of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance said that The Cleveland Indians’ name is detrimental to the self-image and self-esteem of young Native Americans.

"Native Americans, like all people, want our children to believe in themselves and have the confidence to follow their dreams. A growing body of scientific research clearly demonstrates Native American team names and logos reflect and reinforce harmful racial stereotypes about Native Americans. These images and team names have been found to contribute to low self-esteem, low community worth, increased stress and depression in Native people—especially in Native youth. In Cleveland, we see these findings reflected in the experiences of our community members.”

Research conducted by the American Psychological Association has led the organization to call for the elimination of Native American sports nicknames, logos and mascots.

"We know from the literature that oppression, covert and overt racism, and perceived racism can have serious negative consequences for the mental health of American Indian and Alaska native people. The discontinued use of American Indian mascots is a gesture to show that this kind of racism toward and the disrespect of, all people in our country and in the larger global context, will not be tolerated," Lisa Thomas, PhD, APA Committee on Ethnic and Minority Affairs, said in the APA resolution.

Connolly said that many Americans have never met a tribal citizen and have been fed “toxic stereotypes, misinformation and racist historical tropes” by corporations, media and sports teams, leaving the image of Native Americans stuck in the 1800s.

“These portrayals erase us from modern times, foster bias and perpetuate racism. When people don’t realize that we are your coworkers, your neighbors and your classmates, they are less likely to support Indigenous rights and social justice issues,” Connolly said.

Phil Yenyo, Mēxihcah and Executive Director of the American Indian Movement of Ohio, said the Native American community is demanding the Indians to change the name of the team and hopes others affiliated with the team join them.

“The data is clear: to protect the health and well-being of our Native American community and Native youth, our coalition is calling on Cleveland City Council, Progressive Insurance, and Cleveland MLB baseball sponsors to join us and demand the Cleveland MLB team change their name and end the use of all Native themes and imagery for good,” Yenyo said.

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