|Black caucus joins Native American mascot fight|
Cheryl Walker, president of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, speaks
to the United Methodist black caucus about issues of racism against
their Native American brothers and sisters. A UMNS photo by John
By John Coleman*
April 4, 2007 | CLEVELAND (UMNS)
In keeping with its theme of "advocacy for empowerment," the black
caucus of The United Methodist Church began its annual meeting
advocating on a racism issue affecting another minority group: Native
The 40-year-old Black Methodists for Church Renewal is standing in
solidarity with Native Americans regarding the use of Indian mascots by
Officers of the caucus board met March 19 with an official of the
Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland to voice concern
about the name of the Cleveland Indians professional baseball team and
its mascot, Chief Wahoo.
While team owners did not send a representative to the meeting, the
delegation met with Dan Williams, the bureau’s assistant director of
sales. They discussed Resolution #131 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions,
which "rejects the use of Native American names and symbols for sport
teams and considers the practice a blatant expression of racism."
The resolution, called "Respecting the Native American Legacy and
Tradition," was passed by the 2004 General Conference, the
denomination’s top legislative body. It calls on United
Methodist-related organizations and institutions to avoid sponsoring
meetings and events in cities that sponsor such team names and symbols,
and to make public the church’s concern for this issue.
"The significance of our being here is to raise our voice on this issue, and I believe it can make a difference."
- The Rev. Joseph Crawford
Trustees of the University of Illinois recently bowed to pressure
from the National Collegiate Athletics Association, which in 2005 barred
sports teams with nicknames and symbols considered offensive to Native
Americans from hosting or competing in its lucrative postseason
tournaments. The regulatory body banned Chief Illiniwek, a controversial
athletics program mascot, as a "hostile and abusive" image of American
In a March 21 statement read to the caucus by caucus President Cheryl
Walker, the group reportedly was told by Williams that the Cleveland
Indians organization is "moving to discontinue" use of the decades-old
image of Chief Wahoo, a grinning, red-faced, large-nosed caricature of
an Indian with a headband and feather, and to replace it with "a
scripted letter I."
According to Walker, Williams said team owners are "in dialogue"
about changing the team’s name, but no decision or timetable has been
Walker asked caucus members to "continue to pray and advocate for the
Indians organization and other teams to change their hearts and remove
all symbols and names demeaning to our Native American sisters and
"We commend black Methodists and people of all races who advocate
with us on this painful issue," said Suanne Ware-Diaz of the United
Methodist Commission on Religion and Race in an appeal to the National
Black Staff Forum, which met prior to the caucus meeting. "We need you
to stand with us in solidarity and give us your support."
Ware-Diaz, a Kiowa American Indian who relates to the church’s Native
American constituency, teamed with Chris Begay, a Navajo leader of the
local Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, to conduct a
workshop during the caucus meeting on the issue of Native American team
names and mascots.
"The significance of our being here is to raise our voice on this
issue," said the Rev. Joseph Crawford, caucus treasurer, at the close of
the workshop, "and I believe it can make a difference."
Crawford said the caucus’ new strategic plan would include continuing advocacy on the mascot issue.
*Coleman is director of communications for the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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