Those Native American protestors who gather at the ironically named Progressive Field—some of them members of the Cleveland American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance—have not been met with open arms or friendly words. Cleveland’s baseball fans have hurled beer cans and spat on them. The protesters have been called stupid and “Custer-killers”—although it’s not absolutely clear whether that last description is an insult or a compliment. Cleveland AIM calls the use of the Chief Wahoo mascot “bigoted, racist and shameful,” and the Committee of 500 complains that the logo is a negative stereotype against indigenous people.
Supporters of the Cleveland Indians insist that the team’s name and the logo bring honor to American Indians, and heighten awareness to the plight of Native people across the nation. The Cleveland Indians organization did not return calls from ICTMN seeking comment on this issue, but in an April 4 story about the controversy, team spokesman Bob DiBiasio told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he respects the opinions of the protesters, but as to whether the team symbols are racist or not, he said “it is an individual perception issue… When people look at our logo, we believe they think baseball.”
Sundance reports that things can get pretty tense outside the gates of the Cleveland stadium on Opening Day. “We have been actively protesting at the stadium since 1973,” he says, adding that the Cleveland AIM was, “formed in 1972 and in that same year we filed a lawsuit against Cleveland baseball for slander and libel… Obviously it was unsuccessful, because we are still standing out there today.”
He says the anti-Wahoo protestors are often joined by members of the Native organization known as The Peacekeepers, who stand as a human barrier to protect them from an often unruly and inebriated crowd. “There were a couple of years in the recent past when The Peacekeepers were not there. In one of those years there was an assault,” he says. “The young gentleman who was assaulted came as a bystander… He had a video camera and was doing a project for a class.”