I am writing to you to bring an important matter to your readers attention. For generations, derogatory and inappropriate Native American imagery has been used to sell or represent commercial products, travel destinations, schools and sports teams. Recently, the tide has turned, as Indian Country and its allies have fought back against the use of such racist imagery, resulting in hundreds of schools and sports teams, including the Major Leagues’ Cleveland Indians, retiring their stereotype “Indian” logos and mascots. But, as in any war, there remain battles to be fought.
For years I passed by the roadside sign for the Indian Valley Little League in New York’s Hudson Valley. For 10,000 years this really was Indian Valley, and at the time of colonial settlement, it was home to the Munsee People of the Lenape Nation.
It always bothered me, but finally, two years ago, I decided to do something about the sign. The sign shows the hated “Chief Wahoo” as the League’s mascot, and its on the children’s uniforms, on their website and on this very public sign. I reached out to the local League’s president, and she invited me to a board meeting to discuss the issue. I made an impassioned presentation which seemed well received, but at a second meeting the Board unanimously decided to maintain their racist logo. Recently, I tried to reach the local Little League again, but they never responded. So I took it to the next level, locally, and to Williamsport, Penn.
I filed a Formal Complaint with the State of NY Human Rights Department. Then I made a presentation to the local Ulster County Human Rights Commission about the signage and logo. The County Commission seemed sympathetic but has yet to act. I also reached out to the National Congress of American Indians in Washington DC and they’ve been very supportive. Then I turned to Williamsport.
The Little League International in Williamsport is the umbrella organization for all Little Leagues in America (and globally), overseeing thousands of Little League organizations and literally hundreds of thousands of impressionable child ballplayers.
I wanted to see if they had any policy, position paper or guidelines regarding the use of stereotyped or racist Native American imagery by member Little League teams. I learned that Little League, which touches the lives of millions of children and families has rules against discrimination for religious affiliation, handicapped status, sex and sexual orientation, but NOTHING against the inappropriate use of derogatory American Indian symbols, or symbols based on ethnicity or national origin.
The League HQ says that team names and mascots are “local issues” to be decided on the local level according to the “standards of the individual community”. That seems like a dodge, and I am hoping that the community standards in Little League can be brought more in line with a more tolerant, less bigoted civilization, ending the use of these terrible symbol of racism in our communities.
I contacted the chief counsel for the umbrella Little League International organization and asked that steps should be taken to change the policy, to ban such hateful and discriminatory American Indian mascots and logos. After a series of polite e-mails, he indicated that the policy was under review. As the policy is currently under review, I ask that people in Indian Country and its allies please consider reaching out to Little League International to demand that they implement a new policy, banning racist Native American imagery and logos of all kinds.
The “Chief Wahoo” logo is racist and hurtful against Native American people, and a disgrace for child ballplayers to see at the field, on their uniforms and on their signage and website. The NY State Dept of Education has sanctions against entities using such racist logos and caricatures. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association created a directive banning the use of Native American mascots, names and logos from college sports teams. That policy resulted in hundreds of schools and teams “retiring” or at least modifying their racist “Indian” logos. So there is precedence, and hope. I am writing to you to ask Indian Country Today’s assistance to spread the word and rid this public affront from use by my local Little League, and most importantly, from use by all Little League teams. They may be “Little” but its part of a bigger fight.
It is an absolute necessity to immediately end derogatory “Indian” mascots and logos in Little League, and to make this official national Little League policy. I have no doubt that there must be hundreds of Leagues and individual teams with derogatory logos, which negatively influence youngsters every day they take the field. Such logos against other ethnic groups would not be tolerated! Therefore, I ask you to write to:. Mr. Karl T. Eckweiler, Chief Counsel, Little league International, 539 US Route 15 Hwy, P.O. Box 3485, Williamsport, PA 17701.
Harv Hilowitz writes from Stone Ridge, New York.