Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Changing the Cleveland Indians' Name - Why It's Wrong

It's not "nostalgia for a racist past that needs to be put behind us". Under the name of Cleveland Indians, the team was the first in its league to sign a Black player, Larry Doby, straight from the Negro Leagues to the Majors.

The spectacular Satchel Paige also wore an Indians uniform (he was the first Black pitcher to play for the league). Here he is, pictured with Bob Feller in 1948.

It's not even a longing for tradition - although, as a Native Clevelander, who grew up passionately following the team's seasonal ups and downs (for many years, more downs than ups, sadly) - to cut out that part does leave a heart-sized hole.

Nor is it entirely SILLY, although the term, used to refer to those descended from the people living on the continent when the Europeans arrived, is less distinctive than what it replaced, as Native American could just as easily refer to ANY person born in this country.

Many of tribal descent use the term without a problem, as they have for generations. It's true that many do not like the term, but, that's more often because it wipes out their special connection to their specific tribal connections.

For that matter, it's not even a Racist term. The tribal rolls, that permit people to qualify for Official characterization as a 'Native American', are filled with people who, genetically speaking, may have actual DNA that has only a portion traceable to a tribal ancestor. Similarly, many who are NOT Official Indian have a verifiable portion of their DNA that is identifiably Indian. It depends on how the tribe determines belonging. There are even members with Black heritage.

So, some tribe members may be visually indistinguishable from any other American, while others clearly are identifiable by their tribal heritage.

For a fuller discussion of the complicated issue of Who is a Member of a Tribe, check out the link here. It depends, to a great extent, on the tribe.

For the record, my family always maintained that they were part-Indian. The real truth is more complicated than that. One ancestor, so-called Indian Billy, was taken, by force, by the tribal members that killed his mother and other family members. He was held by them for years (just how many are in dispute), until released by treaty (his name, and that of his Indian family, are in the offical Army documents).

He MAY have left before his negotiated release. He MAY have returned voluntarily (his family left the region where he was kidnapped, so finding them may not have been possible after release). He did father 6 children by a woman of that tribe. When the government signed the treaty, he and his family were included. The Indian woman returned, along with her children by Billy.

Later, after he found and rejoined his family, he married (twice, once after his wife's death). Altogether, he was the father of 19 children that lived to adulthood, a remarkable accomplishment for that time (and, I would suspect, due both to a rugged constitution, AND the cababilities of the mothers who raised them). That branch of the family has a long history of active old age, and survival into their 90's and even beyond is common in the records. Billy's father, Frederich van Ice, the original immigrant from Amsterdam, died at 98 while working as a ferryman on Ice Ferry, which he founded.

As for my heritage, it's basically White Northwestern European, our ancestor having been born to the second wife, a Euro-American woman. So, the family stories are just that - stories. But, based in a real life with the Indians.

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