THE TRIBE – It’s a Full Count, Bases Loaded, Bottom of the 9th Indians Down by 3

A Partial List of Native American Tribes Northwest Territory

Chippewa, Piankashaw, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Delaware, Wyandotte, Pottawatomie, Michigamea, Moingwena, Miami, Kaskaskia, Illinoi, Peoria, Wea, Tamaroa, Cahokai, Shawnee, Erie, Iroquois (earliest known)

BACKGROUND

‘American’ frontiersmen in the NW territory could not have been successful in developing their own routes of travel, use of the waterways, trapping and fur trading routes, even in their ultimate survival if not for the help of many of the tribal people living in what was called, in the late 1700’s, by Americans and Europeans the Northwest Territory. Frontiersmen and later homesteaders depended upon the good relations with much of the tribes in the area for survival.

The British, eager to retake as much of the ‘New World’ colonies as possible, were effective at stirring up animosity between American frontiersmen and settlers and the Native Americans. By supplying arms and ammunition and inciting them to violence, the British brought violence and war to the region. They always saw this land, which now includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as a natural extension of their eastern colonies. The French had needed it, particularly the Mississippi River, to connect their inland French provinces in what is now Canada to the sea. During the 1700’s numerous clashes between the French and British erupted over this area. The Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War awarded the entire area to the new country of America. In 1789 Congress officially adopted the boundaries of the Northwest Territory covering 260,000 square miles.

Just four years before the official boundaries were set, the British stirred a small confederation of tribes to fight the Americans for control of the NW Territory. It continued off and on regardless of Washington’s attempts to quell it until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and the subsequent Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

Kathy Weiser Alexander writes, “In July 1800, the territory was reduced with the formation of the Indiana Territory and ceased to exist when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the union (1803) as the state of Ohio. By this time, there were dozens of towns and settlements, a few with thousands of settlers, mostly in Ohio and around the Great Lakes.”[i]

I share the above information in hopes of helping to explain a nonissue that has become an issue in an era of over-the-top political correctness. It has again reared it’s head in the well-meaning attempts by the owners of the Cleveland Indians baseball franchise to be sensitive to the concerns of those who believe the ‘Indians’ is an offensive name for a baseball team. I understand there are some who call themselves Native Americans who make the complaint and others without any native blood come along in support.

MAKING A CASE for THE TRIBE

I do not intimate that I speak for anyone other than myself, a lifelong Ohio resident and a lifelong ‘Tribe’ fan. I included the information on tribes living in the Northwest Territory from where Ohio was born to show how inexorably linked, we are, the ‘Indians’ and non-Indian residents of Ohio. Ohio itself is from the word O-Y-O meaning Great River to the Iroquois who were settled here in about 1690. The Iroquois also had a word meaning ‘crooked river’ – Cuyahoga. The influence of Indian culture is everywhere.

WHAT’s IN A NAME?

Let’s take a quick look at the word Indian versus Native American. Columbus, meaning no disrespect, obviously, since he was expecting to land in the Far East, not some land mass between Spain and there, first called the native people Indians. We must realize, he first sees darker skinned people, native to the new place he believes to be India so, for him at that moment, he is seeing Indians, as in Eastern Indians. Yes, he was off on that calculation. That is what happens without MapQuest. Regardless, Indians was a term that stuck over hundreds of years and was utilized even by these American Indians when they began using English terminology. It was not a disparaging term, just an identifier. Did some use it disparagingly? Every generation has its morons.

Oh, but the politically correct say we must call them Native Americans, just like some want to be called German Americans, Polish Americans, African Americans… the list goes on and on. But if the issue is Columbus’ misunderstanding where he was initially and the name, he used for these native people was acceptable for hundreds of years, what makes Native American better?

Is being named after an Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, better in some way than being called an Indian? I believe that among native tribes you will find widely differing opinions. Most, I expect, and this is just an uneducated guess, would prefer one of two titles. The first being their tribal identity. They are Iroquois or Erie, etc. My second expectation is there would be a large group who simply consider themselves, Americans. If there is a true consensus among all the hundreds of tribes in the U.S., I would be shocked.

THE ISSUES

The key issues are two when it comes to the Cleveland’s baseball team name. The first issue is the incredible amount of Indian and settler cooperation which made Ohio become what it is today. The settlers could not have survived without the tribal peoples coming alongside them. That is a huge part of Ohio heritage and I believe the Cleveland Indians are honoring that heritage. Yes, it is likely in the era of baseball around the turn of the 20th century was not at all respectful of an Indian playing pro-ball. Keeping the name now, as a matter of respect, would reverse that prejudice.

That brings me to the second issue. Motive. Is the motive of the Cleveland franchise to slander and disparage the American Indian? Absolutely not. They are using a term which has been recognized for over five-hundred years by both ‘colonists’ and Indians alike. The owner of the team in 1948, Bill Veeck commissioned and approved the original Chief Wahoo. Baseball historians agree to disagree often, but most are convinced that the ‘Tribe’ became the ‘Tribe’ because in 1897 it’s starting lineup included Louis Sockalexis, a Penobscot Indian from New Brunswick, Canada. The team became known off-handedly as Tebeau’s Indians, after the owner Patsy Tebeau.[ii]

Because of pressure, the team has already removed Chief Wahoo because it was considered disparaging. I believe the Indian whose features are modeled after, would object if he were here today. Kind of like Aunt Jemima’s grandson being appropriately upset at the food company’s sweeping removal of his grandmother’s picture from their label and marketing. It was, after all, her recipe that got them where they are today. But I digress.

Take a quick look at the photo of the first ‘Native American’ to play professional baseball, our own Louis Sockalexis and yes, it was with the Cleveland franchise as noted above and then glance at Chief Wahoo. If you do not see a resemblance, then one of us needs glasses!

MY LAST WORD

To kowtow to political correctness because of the voices who scream the loudest, although they often do not represent the most, would be a true disservice to the foundation the American Indians, the tribes of the Northwest Territory built for our state. It would be giving up an opportunity to properly acknowledge Louis Sockalexis as the first Indian to play professional ball and it would be a very sad moment for every Tribe fan across the globe.


[i] https://www.legendsofamerica.com/old-northwest-territory/

[ii] https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/02/chief-wahoo-cleveland-indians-racist-mascot-nickname-louis-sockalexis-mlb