Should the Braves get rid of their controversial “tomahawk chop”?

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Carly Phares, Head Editor

Recent controversy sparked when the Atlanta Braves announced it is taking steps to “reduce” their longtime chant: the tomahawk chop, a sports celebration mimicking a chopping motion. It is most popularly used by fans of the Florida State University Seminoles, Atlanta Braves baseball team, and the Kansas City Chiefs football team. 

During the series, Cardinals baseball pitcher Ryan Helsley, member of the Cherokee Nation, called out the tomahawk chop as “a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general.”

He continued by saying “it’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots.” The urgency of the response made by the Braves proves they are taking more strides to value and recognize the voice of marginalized groups. 

This brings to light a larger issue: cultural appropriation in sports. Many teams, in addition to the Atlanta Braves, also use the Native American people group as a mascot.

According to the National Conference of American Indians (NCAI), “Indian” sports brands grew to become multi-million dollar industries due to their birth in an era when racism and bigotry were accepted by the dominant culture.

“Rather than honoring Native peoples, these caricatures and stereotypes are harmful, perpetuat[ing] negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, and contribut[ing] to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples,” says the NCAI.

The NFL’s Washington “Redskins” team name is a dictionary defined racial slur. The term has been used as a racial slur in popular culture, stemming all the way back to the 1900s. Throughout the 20th and 21st century, the term has been used interchangeably with the word “savage” to portray a misleading and derogatory image of the Native American people group.

After being written in the early 20th century, the team’s fight song, “Hail to the Redskins,” was not edited to remove some of the more controversial lyrics until over 30 years after it was written:

“Braves on the warpath

Fight for old D.C.!

Scalp ’um, swamp ’um — 

We will

Take ’um big score.

Read ’um, weep ’um,  touchdown,

We want heap more.”

This conversation regarding cultural appropriation does not end with sports, however.  The use of Native American people is also in advertising. From butter to cigarettes, Natives are often capitalized on to sell products.

“They are caricatures, symbols of the European-American narrative that ignores the genocide, disease, and cultural devastation brought to our communities,” according to a Mark Trahant, a journalist and author of The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars.

What most Americans know — or think they know — about Native Americans is rooted in myths and stereotypes. In addition to ads and mascots, information about Native Americans received from the media has created a false narrative about historic and contemporary Native Americans.

All in all, the key to expressing appreciation rather than appropriation is to understand the culture you’re borrowing from, including its history of oppression and marginalization. Respecting other cultures should always be the focus when countering a circumstance in which you may be participating in cultural appropriation.