Demonstrators to target Chief Wahoo at Cleveland Indians home opener

By Mark Naymilk, Northeast Ohio Media Group

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Native Americans and others who believe the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Chief Wahoo, is a demeaning caricature plan to demonstrate outside Progressive Field on Friday during the baseball team’s home opener.

Organizers behind the demonstration have tried to rally people against Wahoo on opening day for more than 20 years, though team owners and baseball fans have generally ignored them. In some years, only a handful of demonstrators have stood with signs against Wahoo.

Organizers hope to find greater support this year because of the renewed attention Wahoo has received in the growing national debate over sports mascots and names sparked by the NFL’s Washington Redskins’ controversy.

The Plain Dealer editorial board recently called on the Cleveland Indians’ owners to drop the smiling, big-toothed, big-nosed cartoon Indian, which has been used for more than 60 years.

Ferne Clements, who has helped organize the demonstration for 21 years, says she can’t predict whether or not support for the protest will grow this year.

“But the message hasn’t changed,” said Clements, who works with the Native American advocacy group, The Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance. “We can’t settle for anything less than a name and logo change. The logo is racist and the name does not honor Native Americans.”

Team owners, who have largely remained silent in the debate, have said the team has no plans to dump Wahoo, which remains popular with fans.

As they do each year, the demonstrators plan to march at 12:30 p.m. from West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue to Progressive Filed, where they will stay until about 3 p.m.

Other Native American organizations are also participating in opening-day demonstrations against Wahoo, according to Facebook postings and email messages.

Ferne, who is not Native American, said she and others are already looking ahead to 2015, which marks the 100th Anniversary of the team name.