The Ball Club Logo And The Red Feather...

Many years ago, I became involved with a Northern Ohio Native American association. The association served a number of very beneficent purposes with the Cleveland Native American community. Quite a few people with whom I spoke with at the time were unaware that there were reportedly Native Americans from well over a hundred tribes represented in the Greater Cleveland area. There were in fact, thousands of people living here then, who either claimed to have, or were actually registered with Native American ancestry; not to mention thousands more who believed that they did, but either did not know for certain, or had been admonished by their elders to keep that identity secret.

When the Indian Removal Act (passed by Congress in 1830) went into effect, many who were identified as Native Americans were pushed from their homes and farms to lands west of the Mississippi. To this day, there remains tension at times between "government-registered" Native Americans who moved to reservations, and those who are "unregistered"; whose ancestors stayed behind and quietly assimilated into the "white" culture.

 At the time I volunteered with that association, there was also a great deal of material and spiritual need among the Native peoples around Cleveland. For years, area volunteers helped to provide support for gatherings tied to spiritual and cultural awareness events, permitting quite a few good times for Native American children, while giving them a wonderful opportunity to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Of course, the question of the Cleveland ball club name and logo also came up periodically. As we are all aware, there has been additional public discussion and controversy this year as to whether the logo of that toothy grinning cartoon mascot should be retired. Indeed, it seems that every year, there are protests down at the ballpark against that logo. That the ball club's name and logo would be highly emotional topics among Native peoples, there would be little doubt. Were the team's mascot depicting any other race of people, I would suspect that it would have long ago gone the way of the minstrel shows and other racial characterizations that one were quite common in the entertainment world. Because there were, at one point, so few Native Americans left alive in this state, (and those who were being forced into silence about their ancestry) I suppose that there was once a feeling that, in more than one way, that logo and team name was nothing to be worried about. After all, "those" Native American people were all gone from here by now, weren't they?

Not exactly. In fact there was a period of time, a number of years ago, when the Federal Government encouraged Native Americans to leave their reservations and come to the cities to find employment. It was that kind of encouragement that helped the Cleveland area to once again become a home for thousands of Native Americans.

Interestingly, there has been a surprising diversity of opinion, not to mention outright ambivalence at times among a few Cleveland area Native Americans regarding the ball club name and logo. At some of the events where I volunteered, there were even Native children who showed up wearing the logo. I believe also, that it would possibly be safe and fair to say that when the team's name and logo were originally thought up, there may not have been any deliberate racist intent involved. That said, as more Native Americans moved to the Cleveland area, the issue of the logo became much more pronounced, to the point that many, if not most of them probably feel that its high time for the team name and cartoon logo to go.

There is actually one aspect particularly, that appears to bother many Native Americans intensely about that logo, and that would be its use of a red feather. The red feather is a highly sacred object to a number of Native tribes for a variety of reasons. It could be used as a blood feather war sign, and also, as a call for peace. In some tribes, it reportedly had a purpose as a high honor; being awarded as a recognition of some heroic deed. In my discussions with Native American leaders over the years, it was the use of the sacred red feather, more than any other single issue, that has caused the most concern among Native peoples; along with the feeling that there was a general cultural insensitivity in our modern society concerning Native Americans generally.

As I learned from my own civil rights experiences as a special-needs individual, and in my days as a Special Education teacher, neither prejudice, nor racism, (nor discrimination in any form) can be allowed to be defined by anyone other than the person who experiences it. Perpetrators of persecution will almost always deny any prejudicial or racial culpability on their part. Indeed they will often plead either ignorance or innocence regarding such matters.

With respect to the ball club logo, the statement has often been made by its defenders that it somehow actually "honors" Native Americans. I, for one, have never met a single Native American who feels that way. To the contrary, the vast majority of Native Americans whom I've met with feel that the time for that name and logo to pass into history has been long overdue.

What might replace the name and logo? Well, perhaps some sort of win-win could be worked out between a REAL tribe that formerly resided in Northeastern Ohio. Perhaps they could call the team "The Cleveland Iroquois", or "The Cleveland Wyandots"? The ball club could then pay a naming rights royalty to a tribe of Native peoples for the use of their name, and that could then be used as a fund to help their children, while at the same time truly honoring our local Native American Heritage. Perhaps the pipe of peace could then replace the red feather? Obviously, many would need to agree to these changes, and perhaps others would have better or wiser proposals than mine to offer. The Cleveland ball club is comprised of many fine people who already participate in much good work in our community. Perhaps this could be yet another area where their benevolence would go to a very appropriate cause.

One way or another, there is little doubt in my mind that the time has come to retire our team's present name and logo. What say you?

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Volume 10, Issue 8, Posted 2:32 PM, 04.15.2014