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First Nations Cleveland Indians fans have complex relationship with team name, logo

First Nations fans of the Cleveland Indians have a complicated relationship with their team’s name and its mascot Chief Wahoo — a toothy, grinning, caricature of an Indigenous person.

'I feel there is a possibility the Indians should keep the name Indians'

Tory James, a member of the Oneida First Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, is a life-long Cleveland Indians fan. Though he would like to see them change the Indians name, he says Indigenous people have other issues to advocate for. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

First Nations fans of the Cleveland Indians have a complicated relationship with their team's name and its mascot Chief Wahoo — a toothy, grinning, caricature of an Indigenous person.

With calls to change the name and an Ontario court challenge seeking to ban the name 'Indians' from Ontario, Cleveland fans are finding the name increasingly viewed as offensive, just like the Atlanta Braves and Washington Redskins in the NFL.

During baseball's American League Championship Series matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays, critics used #NotYourMascot to show their displeasure with the name. 

But Tory James, a member of the Oneida First Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, says his relationship with Cleveland is more complex than calling for an outright ban.

Tory James, a member of the Oneida First Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy speaks about the Cleveland Indians baseball team. 2:06

"When you're talking about First Nations mascots, I'm very much in favour of the Washington [football] club getting rid of the 'Redskins' mascot, not a big fan of the Atlanta Braves and any of those shortened names for Indigenous people," he said.

"I feel there is the possibility the Indians should keep the name Indians," he said. "But Chief Wahoo has got to go."

James is a baseball fan but has also been a vocal activist for First Nations in Canada for more than 30 years. As a teen he walked nearly 200 kilometres from his high school in London, Ont. to Point Pelee in support of a land claim made by the Caldwell First Nation.  

The Cleveland logo is seen on the uniform sleeve of third base coach Mike Sarbaugh during a game against the San Diego Padres in Cleveland during the 2014 season. (Mark Duncan/Associated Press)

That's one of the reasons he's not vocal about eliminating the Indians name — he says Indigenous people have more pressing issues to solve.    

"I really honestly feel that with the Highway of Tears, the missing and murdered Indigenous women, what's going on in Attawapiskat and other First Nations communities I just feel I have bigger fish to fry," he said.

James does say he would like to see Cleveland drop the Indians name and logo. One change he suggests is calling the club the Cleveland Cuyahogas. 

For now he says he'll stick with watching baseball and continue focusing on First Nations issues he feels are more important for him. 

"I'm far more concerned with what's happening to real 'Indians' than what's happening to a darn baseball club in Cleveland."