Kolby KickingWoman 
Indian Country Today

In the world of sports, a lot of teams and schools don’t get it right when it comes to appropriating Native culture. We’ve all seen it.

Shoot, look how long it took for the Washington Football Team and Cleveland Indians to change their ways.

The latest example isn’t as egregious as those examples but it still misses the mark.

On Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns revealed their latest uniform concept for the upcoming season. Pretty slick duds that celebrate the team's Mexican and Mexican-American fanbase.

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I have no problem with the jerseys, nor do I have problems with the Suns as a franchise (except for the fact they knocked the Lakers out of the playoffs this past year,) and in all honesty, the jerseys are pretty cool.

The thing that gets me about the rollout is the erasure of Indigenous communities of the Phoenix area and Arizona.

In the press release, the team states the uniform is “Honoring our fans today with a tribute to early ancestors of the Valley…” with a concept being inspired by “ancient Aztec symbolism.”

That got me thinking about the Aztec empire and the small recollections I have of learning about them in school. After a little digging you find out that the Aztecs’ historical landbase is closer to Guatemala than it is to Phoenix.

As a colleague put it, “Reads like they erase the O’odham people living here.”

A day after releasing the uniform concept, the official Suns Twitter account tweeted that it was important to hear feedback from the community. On top of that, they said a jersey honoring tribes of the area was forthcoming in the 2022-23 season.

Yet the point remains.

In the NBA, every team has more versions of jerseys than necessary and I imagine the Suns didn’t mean to offend or demean any tribal nations. However, the team has business relationships with tribes in the area, the previous name of their arena was “Talking Stick Resort Arena.”

You know, the resort run by the Salt River Pima–Maricopa Indian Community? The Gila River Indian Community also has a partnership with the team.

Not to mention the countless number of Native fans who root for them night in and night out.

This isn’t an exercise in shaming the team.

But we’re still here, we’ve always been here. The Indigenous communities of the Phoenix Valley have always been there; and they deserve that respect and recognition.

It doesn’t take much effort to reach out. Or maybe hire local Indigenous talent. Let’s hope the organization follows through with their plan for a Native themed jersey.

One of the better professional sports cities that highlight surrounding Native communities is Seattle. In 2019, the Seahawks announced a 10-year partnership with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe that will focus on programs and initiatives like elder health and youth leadership development.

More recently, the newest team in the National Hockey League, the Seattle Kraken, issued a “land and peoples acknowledgement” where the team commits to “amplify the voices of, Native peoples and tribes.” 

Indian Country doesn’t ask for much but the least that can be given is the respect and recognition it deserves. 

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