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Native Americans join discussion of minor league baseball team’s name; fans divided on change

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis Indians baseball team said Tuesday that after more than a century, a name change might be needed.

The announcement got support from Native Americans but a divided response from fans.

A committee to explore the idea will include the executive director of the American Indian Center of Indiana, Carolina Castoreno-Santana.

The Indians have been the mascot of the Indianapolis baseball team since 1902. While logos have evolved through the decades, those who are Native American, including Castoreno-Santana, say those changes aren’t enough.

“I’m really glad to hear they’re listening to what we’re saying,” she said.

She adds that the name isn’t the problem. It’s the imagery that goes with it that is offensive, with fans wearing war paint and headdresses, doing mocking cheers like the “tomahawk chop,” all of which reinforce harmful stereotypes.

“It’s the idea of taking a group of people and making them a mascot for entertainment,” Castoreno-Santana said.

Back in the 1980s, one of the team’s logos was an Indian caricature shown wearing Native American clothing and getting ready to throw a baseball. An earlier logo also merged baseball with Native American imagery.

Things changed in 1993 with new team colors and a new logo unveiled to go along with a new affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds.

But the name stayed.

While Castoreno-Santana credits the team’s incremental changes, “It’s 25 years later; maybe it’s time to take that next step.”

Some fans certainly agree.

“It’s really about time,” said Kevin Robertson, wearing a Cubs hat downtown Tuesday as he walked his dog. He’s been to a handful of games over the years. “Indians is just a ridiculous name anyways. They’re Native American, for one. They’re only Indians because Christopher Columbus thought he was in India.”

But other fans, like Steve Groce, who have grown up with the Indians, who has attended dozens of games over the years, aren’t so sure.

“I don’t see what the problem is, it’s just a name. No one is making fun of anyone,” Groce said. “They’ve been that way for so long, everybody will still call them the Indians anyway.”

Jaimie Maple estimates he’s attended close to 100 games.

“It’s good to have discussions about things, but at the same time, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Maple said.

But others like Robertson are ready to see immediate change.

“They are native to this land and if they feel it’s racist to them or rude to them, it’s definitely something we should look into,” he said. “It’s a long time coming and probably overdue.”

Castoreno-Santana said her mission on the committee will be one of educating the other members. But she will be disappointed if the name sticks.

“They are some native people who don’t find offense. They are definitely in the minority,” she said.

The team declined to be interviewed Tuesday but released a statement:

“Indianapolis Indians baseball dates back to 1902 and it’s been the organization’s goal to be low-cost family entertainment for all fans in an inclusive environment. We take this mission very seriously. We also feel strongly about the relationship we have with our fans, community and corporate partners. Knowing that the appropriateness of our team name is being questioned, we will be forming a committee to explore it while also gathering community input. As background, the name is derived from our state, Indiana, which means “Land of the Indians” and our city, Indianapolis, which means “City of Indians.”

“We are prepared to collaborate with our community and appropriate stakeholders. We understand that our team name has not been endorsed by some but trust they understand the historic and respectful context in which it has been used over the years. We are committed to engage, listen and exchange ideas.”

The team also said forming a committee is just the first step, and it’s too early to know who else will fill the committee and when they will begin to meet.

A team spokesman was not sure what prompted the logo change in 1993, if it was public pressure or simply conveniently timed as the team switched from the Expos to the Reds. He said he would be looking in the archives Wednesday and promised to have an update. When we hear back, we’ll update this story.

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