Kolby KickingWoman
Indian Country Today

It was a raucous scene inside Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974.

Hank Aaron had just hit a home run to surpass Babe Ruth for the most home runs of all time, a record some thought would never be broken.

As Aaron rounded the bases, amid the fray at home plate was Levi Walker, Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. Walker at the time served as the Atlanta Braves’ mascot, “Chief Noc-A-Homa.”

That game is one of Walker’s fondest memories of his time with the franchise. He even recalls the pitcher who caught the ball in the bullpen (Tom House).

“The bullpen emptied out, and I said, ‘What the heck? I’m part of this team too,’” Walker said. “So I went and met Hank at home plate. He was hugging his mother, and he hugged his father, and I shook Hank Aaron’s hand at home plate and said, ‘Yes!’”

Walker spent nearly two decades with the team, watching the games and interacting with fans from a section beyond the left field fence where the team put a teepee.

SUPPORT INDIGENOUS JOURNALISM. CONTRIBUTE TODAY.

Walker said although their interactions were limited, he had the “utmost respect” for Aaron, his favorite player.

“I went to my locker to get dressed, and I went by Mr. Aaron, I said, ‘How's it going, Hammer?’ And he said, ‘It's doing just fine, stud,’” Walker recalled with a chuckle.

The Braves ultimately retired “Chief Noc-A-Homa” in 1986. But given the chance to do it all over again, Walker wouldn’t hesitate.

Levi Walker, who served as the Atlanta Braves mascot Chief Noc-A-Homa from 1969 through 1985, leafs through a Braves 2015 Souvenir Program as his wife, Teri Ficula, looks on before a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015, in Atlanta. This is Walker's first Braves game since 1988. (AP Photo/Jon Barash)
Levi Walker, left, and Hank Aaron (Photo courtesy Gwyn Walker Newman)

While he wasn’t a fan of the Washington NFL team name, he is of the school of thought that “Indians” and “Braves” as mascots are not offensive.

Walker’s girlfriend, Teri Ficula, said Walker did a lot of educating in those 16 years, and he brought authenticity to the mascot where White men with mismatched regalia preceded him.

“So he thought he was paving the way for Native Americans, and that's how he felt,” Ficula said. “For 16 years, all the fans had great respect for him and enjoyed him. They still consider him part of their upbringing.”

Although, with the icon’s death, some fans see it as an opportunity to honor Aaron by renaming the team the Hammers. Aaron’s nickname was Hammerin’ Hank.

(Related: Hank Aaron fans: Change 'Braves' to 'Hammers')

Over the weekend, a petition was started to attempt to get some momentum behind a name change, according to The Associated Press.

In part, the petition reads, "The renaming serves two important purposes: 1) It honors an icon who represented our city with grace and dignity for more than half a century, and 2) It removes the stain on the city of having a team name that dishonors Native and Indigenous people, especially given one of the greatest tragedies in American History, the Trail of Tears, began in the region the team calls home.”

The Braves organization has maintained over the years that the team name is a tribute and honor of Native people.

ICT Phone Logo

Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/A'aniih is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports for the Washington Bureau. For hot sports takes and too many Lakers tweets, follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

Our stories are worth telling. Our stories are worth sharing. Our stories are worth your support. Contribute $5 or $10 contribution today to help Indian Country Today carry out its critical mission.