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Socrates: I was told you could explain to me why it’s important that Cleveland’s major league baseball team change its name from the “Indians.”
Christopher Begay: Yes, it is very straightforward. Referring to a sports team as the “Indians” dehumanizes Native Americans and desecrates our sacred traditions, cultures, and all forms of our tribal governments.
Socrates: This surprises me. At home games at least, don’t people in the stands make statements in support of their team?
Begay: How do you mean?
Socrates: Wouldn’t fans yell “let’s go Indians” and “hurrah for the Indians.” Wouldn’t they have silly foam fingers and signs saying the “Indians are Number One?” In these and many other ways, I think fans would encourage the success of the Indians.
Begay: But these would be expressions in support of the team, not in support of Native Americans. By using the word “Indian” to refer to a sports team, it dehumanizes Native Americans.
Socrates: Would this be true whenever a team name refers to a group of people?
Begay: It might be.
Socrates: So “Mariners” would dehumanize seafarers, “Padres” dehumanizes Catholic clergy and desecrates that religion, and Dodgers dehumanizes people who avoid trams?
Begay: Hardly anyone remembers what the Dodger name refers to.
Socrates: Still, I find it hard to believe that residents of Philadelphia would support a team that seeks to dehumanize them unless you think “Phillies” refers to female horses.
Begay: These other groups have not been oppressed like Native Americans. The use of “Indians” furthers the oppression of my people.
Socrates: By desecrating your traditions?
Socrates: What was your traditional use of the word “Indian.”
Begay: We never used the word traditionally. “Indian” is a vestige of Spanish ignorance in believing that Columbus had sailed to Asia, rather than reaching our continents.
Socrates: If the word is not used in your tradition, how can its use for a team name desecrate a sacred tradition?
Begay: This may be more to do with the logo, which incorporated a feather headdress.
Socrates: But the logo is gone now; we are just talking about the team’s name. Let’s continue: how does the name desecrate your culture?
Begay: Why are you attacking me? Your questions are just another form of oppression.
Socrates: My pupil Plato will tell you that I talk to everyone this way. But how can trying to understand you be an attack on you?
Begay: I will not tolerate this any longer.
Socrates: I wonder if changing the name to the “Cleveland Seventh Cavalry” would make him feel any better?Published in