Monday’s announcement by the team’s owner, Paul Dolan, comes after the franchise started having discussions with Native American groups, researchers and civic leaders over the summer. And while the talks came as the country was in the midst of a racial reckoning, some activists say their efforts to change team names have been increasingly bolstered by research that shows most Native Americans are offended by the team names.
“This is a large step in the right direction,” Yenyo told CNN. “This fight isn’t over, this is just one team.”
Yenyo said he was relieved when the Indians team owners invited him to meet with them this summer. In the past, Yenyo said the team had ignored his protests.
Yenyo has spent the last 30 years leading protests outside Cleveland Indians games, often carrying a megaphone or poster that denounced the team’s name.
“I had prayed for a very long time for this day to come,” he said.
The “Indians” name was chosen by the team and a group of baseball newspaper writers in 1915.
Though the exact story of its origin is unclear, the name was partly based on the contemporary success of the Boston Braves, who won the 1914 World Series, as well as on Louis Sockalexis, a former Native American baseball star in Cleveland who died in 1913, according to Cleveland Magazine.
Cleveland’s announcement also comes two years after it removed the “Chief Wahoo” logo, a racist caricature of a Native American character, from their uniforms following the 2018 season.
Other teams, including the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, are also facing pressure to reexamine their names. The Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Blackhawks have made adjustments to their traditions but have defended their names and logos.
The change won’t be immediate
Cleveland’s team owner said the franchise will continue using the “Indians” name and branding until it decides on a new mascot.
Though Cleveland won’t immediately remove Indians from the team name, Yenyo said he is still pleased the team made the commitment.
“I understand that it’s going to take time, it’s part of the process,” Yenyo said. “And we have been patient.”
Crystal Echo Hawk, executive director and founder of IllumiNative, told CNN that Monday’s decision to drop the name was long overdue. She hopes other sports teams, and the thousands of schools with Native American mascots, will follow Cleveland in making the change.
“This is just another extraordinary win for Native people and I think for everyone in our fight against systemic racism,” Echo Hawk said. “These racist native sports mascots fuel racism and cause psychological harm to Native American children.”
Although Monday’s announcement is considered a win, Echo Hawk said the continued use of the Indians name through the 2021 season is a reminder that her fight to eliminate all racist team names is not over.
“We will not rest until every professional, collegiate, and K-12 sports teams acknowledge the harm done to our Native youth and join us in ending systemic racism against Native peoples,” Echo Hawk said.
A move that’s long overdue
“And we learn most from television,” he said.
This lack of representation — in pop culture, in education and in the general American consciousness — can lead to an erasure of Native American people and experiences.
Americans tend to think of Native Americans as people living in a bygone era, Echo Hawk said.
And while the fight continues, some Native American leaders are hopeful and say that this year forced corporations to seriously consider getting rid of offensive names and images.
Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative and leader of the Change the Mascot campaign, said he was pleased that sports team names were being changed amid this year’s awakening on racism. Native Americans have been “exploited” for profit by sports franchises for too long, he said.
“Sports is such an incredible cultural power in this nation and in the world and it needs to inclusive,” Halbritter said. “I hope and look forward to a broader discussion in this country about these mascots and include the affected people.”