Center for Native American Youth

CNAY Celebrates Retirement of Offensive Chief Wahoo Mascot

On January 29, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland franchise announced plans to retire its divisive Chief Wahoo mascot from the team’s uniforms in 2019. The Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute (CNAY) recognizes that the misrepresentation of Native peoples through racist imagery, team names and mascots has been a longtime priority for Native youth activists and advocacy groups.

“The decision to move towards retiring Chief Wahoo is a much-needed win for those who have been working tirelessly to advocate for accurate, respectful representation of the diversity of Native peoples and cultures,” says CNAY Executive Director Erik Stegman. “We’re proud to support the work of Native youth advocates in tackling this and other pertinent issues in Indian Country, and applaud the Cleveland franchise for setting this important example.”

18-year-old Anthony Tamez (Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree and Sicangu Lakota)—named by CNAY this year as a Champion for Change—has been working to educate non-Natives about the psychological harm and societal consequences that result from the use of race-based mascots in his hometown of Chicago. “Living in Illinois, I’ve seen the struggles surrounding the University of Illinois’ process to remove Chief Illiniwek for over a decade,” says Tamez. “While it’s important that we celebrate the Cleveland victory, we must also keep pushing for other teams with racist mascots to make the same change. The Cleveland franchise is in a unique and powerful position to be an ally and set an example by advocating against and educating their fans about the racial and cultural impacts that these mascots and team names promote.”

Native-themed mascots are proven to have a detrimental effect on the psychological wellbeing of Native people, especially Native American youth. According to the Center for American Progress’s report Missing the Point:The Real Impact of Native Mascots and Team Names on American Indian and Alaska Native Youth, research shows that these team names and mascots can establish an unwelcome and hostile learning environment for American Indian and Alaska Native students. Furthermore, they negatively impact self-esteem and mental health for Native students, while perpetuating stereotypical representations of Native people that “contribute to the development of cultural biases and prejudices”.

Anthony Tamez and fellow Champions for Change will discuss their Native youth-led efforts to address this and other issues during a panel discussion next month at The Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. Click here for more details and to RSVP.