Braves plan to discuss tomahawk chop with American Indians

(Photo by Dinur | Flickr)

The Associated Press

The baseball team wants to have a dialogue with Native Americans about the tradition.

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta Braves officials say they plan to have talks with Native Americans about the Tomahawk Chop chant that has drawn complaints and stoked controversy during the Major League Baseball post-season.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that team representatives will hold the talks during the offseason about deciding whether to keep the tomahawk chop tradition.

The Braves did not distribute their traditional red foam tomahawks to fans before Game 5 of their National League Division Series vs. the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 9. Fans at SunTrust Park raise the tomahawks and thrust them forward in a chopping motion, led by music and graphics on the video boards.

The Braves said they removed the tomahawks for the final game of their series with St. Louis after Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley said he finds the chant insulting. Helsley is a member of the Cherokee Nation. He's one of only a few Native Americans in the majors.

"I think it's a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general," Helsley told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the Braves-Cardinals series.

"Just depicts them in this kind of caveman-type people way who aren't intellectual," Helsley said. "They are a lot more than that. It's not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It's not. 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 Redskins and stuff like that."

The National Football League's Washington Redskins have also faced continuing criticism for its nickname, which critics say denigrates Native Americans. Fans of the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs have also done the tomahawk chant in their stadium, drawing more criticism.

The chant has been a part of the Braves' tradition since it was borrowed from Florida State University in the early 1990s.

"It reduces Native Americans to a caricature and minimizes the contributions of Native peoples as equal citizens and human beings," Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James Floyd said in a statement to the Atlanta newspaper.

The leader of the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians expressed similar sentiments. Principal Chief Richard Sneed says he has no problem with the team's name, but that it's time to stop the tomahawk chop.

"That's just so stereotypical, like old-school Hollywood," Chief Sneed said. "Let's move on. Find something else."

Asked about the long-term future of the chant, Braves spokeswoman Beth Marshall referred to the team's earlier statements.

"We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the overall in-game experience," said a statement issued on the day of the Braves' season-ending Game 5 defeat. "We look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community after the postseason concludes."


Related: Let it go, Braves, Let it go

Comments (4)
No. 1-3

It’s about time!


I am a professor at Berklee College of Music and am making this article public for the to discuss. I teach Tommy Orange and Sherman Alexie's books and try to show how relevant these issues are still today.


I think the issue needs to be explained in a different way. Allowing the Atlanta Braves' fans to do their stupid tomahawk chop isn't only cultural insensitive, it whitewashes Georgia's history of removing the Cherokee and other Native peoples via fraud, violence, and the complicity of state and local officials, of lawyers and businessmen, and many others. The Cherokee weren't wielding tomahawks during the 1830s, they were wielding Supreme Court decisions that clarified their rights as a semi-sovereign nation. That Andrew Jackson and Georgian officials ignored that the highest court of the land is forgotten. The Atlanta Braves' fan thus created an entirely false history of their area and their state while at the same time painting all Indians in a broad stereotypical brush. It's offensive on so many levels.