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Chief Wahoo: The Controversary

Tribe fans paint their faces in likeness to the controversial "Chief Wahoo". (Google Images)
Steve Allanson
Baseball season is here!!! I'm so excited and I just can't fight it. I've been a die-hard Cleveland Indians fan since my father took me to my first game in April of 1995. We beat the Blue Jays 4 to 3. I loved everything about the Indians; the crack of the bats, the smell of the grass, Slider, and of course our beloved "Chief Wahoo". This year the Cleveland Indians have decided to phase out the coveted mascot, which has drawn much controversy from fans. As much as Chief Wahoo brings fond memories, this is a decision that I have come to support.

Chief Wahoo has drawn criticism for years from Native American activists. It's not uncommon to see a group of Native American protesters when arriving at a game. The late Russell Means was the most powerful and effective activist. His $9 million dollar suit against Chief Wahoo earned him death threats from outraged fans, and even a letter advocating the "Ethnic cleansing" of the Native American people. As I've gotten older, I have realized the harm the mascot has caused to a race that has been scrutinized, oppressed, and murdered by Americans for over 500 years. 522 years and still counting, to be more exact.

For the longest time I was right along with the outraged fans. I thought, “Oh God, another 'politically correct' thing I have to worry about.” Then I met a Native American who has become one of my best friends. Morgan has been there for me and helped me through some of my darkest hours. As a member of the Lakota Nation, Morgan knows firsthand the atrocities brought on the native people in reservation life. Every day I see the frustration and sadness in his face as he watches a person wearing Cleveland Indians apparel walk by. Something I myself have done. I do understand that 99% of people do not advocate the use of Chief Wahoo out of prejudice towards the Native American people, but more out of a love for the tradition and support of the team they have grown to love. But when you weigh the respect owed to a friend and his people versus a cartoon mascot, respect is going to win every time.

Like many fans of the team, you might be asking, “How is Chief Wahoo racist?” Chief Wahoo is a cartoon caricature of a red skinned, big-nosed, feather-headed likeness to a Native American. Chief Wahoo is the epitome of a racial stereotype. First, not all Native Americans wore feathers. Only the Plains Indians wore feathers. Cleveland, Ohio, was, and still is not a part of the Great Plains. Second, the term "redskins" is not an allegory of the color of Native American skin but rather came to be during the beginning of the genocide of the indigenous tribes when Columbus offered prize money ($9,000) for the scalps or “redskins” of any tribesman over the age of 16. $2,000 for a woman or child. Lastly, the similarities between Chief Wahoo and "Black face" are stunning as you can see in the picture below. To refresh your memory, Black face was when a white man would paint his face black to portray a black man on stage, usually to mock the black man. Today, fans paint their faces red, put on war bonnets, and swing tomahawks while attending our beloved Indians games.

The argument is not whether or not you personally find Chief Wahoo offensive or not, it is that Native Americans find it offensive. If we had chosen a mascot of “Aunt Jemima” or “Black Face”, the mascot would have been removed so fast our heads would spin. Native Americans are human beings who deserve our compassion and respect. It's not like Chief Wahoo has won us any World Series anyway. We haven't won since 1948. Maybe it's time we adopt a new name and mascot and bring the magic back to Cleveland? Either way, I will always be a Cleveland baseball fan. The lack of this mascot who adds nothing to the success of the team would not take away any of the affection I have for my favorite team. But the removal of our coveted mascot would offer me a lot of pride for the city I love as we come together to help fellow man. It is time we show compassion towards a people who've seen very little over the last 500 years or so.
"Black Face" and "Chief Wahoo" side-by-side. (Google Images)