(Buffalo, N.Y.) — Native American culture is still prevalent in the U.S., but many argue it has also been abused and disrespected over the years.
One issue that has generated a lot of public discussion is the use of Native American terms and imagery as sports team mascots on the professional and collegiate levels.
Michael Martin, executive director of the Native American Community Services for Niagara and Erie counties, appeared on the Buffalo Review TV May 10 to discuss the issue.
“Any demeaning of people as humans is obviously concerning no matter who it is,” said Martin, who is also a Buffalo State graduate.
Currently five professional teams from the four major sports have a name derived from Native American culture, including the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.
However, many other minor league, collegiate and high schools teams also use Native American imagery in their logos.
In January, the Indians announced they will phase out the use of their “Chief Wahoo” logo beginning in 2019 after Major League Baseball deemed it was no longer appropriate.
The Redskins from the NFL is the one franchise that has seemed to garnered the most attention concerning the issue, which is likely because team owner Daniel Snyder has said he will not change the name of the team.
Martin says it’s likely “stubbornness” on the part of owners who often cite “economics” as a reason why they refuse to change the name of their teams.
“I would see it as an economic opportunity to win over a portion of the fan base that does not support that name,” said Martin.
While other teams have not seen the same level of scrutiny, Martin said people should use caution when trying to define how Native American people view the issue.
“There are differences of opinions, just like there are in other communities,” he said.
“Are they really being respectful of native people in terms of how they portray us or are they disregarding who we are and using an antiquated image of us?”