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Indian groups want to stop Braves' chop

Indian groups want to stop Braves' chop

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TLANTA (AP) - Jane Fonda and Ted Turner did the "tomahawk chop" together. Even Jimmy Carter joined in the Atlanta Braves mania by using the swinging elbow-to-hand motion to root, root, root for the home team.

But the nationally televised sight of these celebrities appropriating Indian symbols along with thousands of other Braves baseball fans who sang an Indian-like chant while waving toy tomahawks has outraged some American Indians.

If Atlanta reaches the World Series, some Indian groups have said they will demonstrate outside the Metrodome in Minnesota before Saturday's opening game against the Twins.

"It's dehumanizing, derogatory and very unethical," said Aaron Two Elk of Atlanta, regional director of the American Indian Movement. "It extends a portrayal of Native American people as being warlike, aggressive, having a savage approach."

The behavior of Braves fans, whose team trails 3-2 in the best-of-7 National League playoff series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, has touched a particularly raw nerve in Minneapolis, where more than 23,000 Indians represent one of the largest concentrations of urban Indians in the nation. There are about 50,000 Indians in the state.

"People in Atlanta don't realize they're talking about an entire race of people, and it hurts to see these white boys in the bleachers singing and chanting like that," said Phil St. John, a Dakota Sioux and leader of a group called Concerned American Indian Parents, who pushed for an end to Indian names and mascots in Minneapolis.

Defenders of the tomahawk chop say the Atlanta fans' antics are good, clean fun that is not meant to offend anyone.

"I can't get into the minds of other folks," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said Monday. "The fans are the ones who sort of took to the characterization of the Atlanta Braves as a winning team … simulating warriors in battle, all of which we view as very positive and certainly doing nothing to discriminate or in any way negatively impact."

Bill Higgins, 29, of West Palm Beach, Fla., who wore a full Indian headdress and carried a tom-tom to Monday's game, said he was just trying to have fun.

"I hope no one is offended by it," Higgins said. "I don't do it other than for baseball. I don't go home and do it."

But St. John said Atlanta fans don't realize what they're doing when they wear headdresses, paint their faces and mimic Indian war chants.

"You wear a headdress only twice - when you honor a loved one or when a

CHOP 2B loved one passes on," he said.

Mark Trahant, publisher of The Navajo Nation Today, a weekly newspaper in Window Rock, Ariz., said he finds the chop and the chants especially offensive.

"I can't imagine any other race that would have to have something adapted from their culture in such a distorted way. Can you imagine fans painting their faces black like the old minstrel movies?" asked Trahant, who also is president of the Native American Journalists Association.

Although the rise of the Braves has brought the issue new notoriety, many Indian groups have long protested team names such as the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians along with Indian symbols used by many high school and college teams.

There have been some changes. Eastern Michigan dropped the name Hurons, the name of a regional Indian tribe, and became the Eagles last summer. In 1972, Stanford dropped the Indian as a mascot after Native American students complained about stereotypes.

Fans of the Florida State Seminoles, the nation's top-ranked college football team, originated the chop and war chant now used in Atlanta.

The Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians will consider a policy statement regarding the use of Indian names and rituals at its meeting in December in San Francisco.

"The word "redskin' and the word "brave' are felt to be the equivalent of terms like "darkie' or "cottonpicker,"' said Don Messec, coordinator of the group's anti-defamation activities.

But not all Indian groups are offended by the tomahawk chop.

A spokesman for the Seminole tribe said the use of the name and rituals by Florida State does not bother many of its members.

"Some tribes take it to an extreme" in protesting athletic team depictions of Indians, said Steven Bowers of the tribe's headquarters in Hollywood, Fla. "You have to take a tongue-in-cheek kind of attitude. It's a motivational type thing."


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