By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The Cleveland Indians professional baseball team could soon face a $9 billion lawsuit for 100 years of “dispossession and racism,” says the head of a Native American organization in the city.
Robert Roche, a Chiricahua Apache who is part of the People Not Mascots organization, says the lawsuit will be launched in U.S. federal court next month.
“It is disparaging, it’s racism,” said Roche, 67, about the Cleveland team’s name and logo of Chief Wahoo.
The planned lawsuit comes as the Washington Redskins football team fights a decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to strip the NFL franchise of its trademark on the grounds it is a “racial slur.”
The Cleveland Indians could also be facing a trademark challenge on the same grounds. The legal action is also expected to move on two fronts.
One front will argue that Native Americans are “hindered from using the public accommodations of the stadium” because of the team’s racist name, said James Patrick Meissner, one of the lawyers involved in the case.
“You wouldn’t allow stadiums to put up Nazi paraphernalia and say Jews shouldn’t take offense,” said Meissner.
Meissner said they will also be suing for libel and slander.
“The Native Americans feel that the appropriate damages from this team that has made money off it would be $9 billion,” he said.
Roche said that should they win, the money would go toward the many underfunded services for Native Americans in Cleveland and the rest of Ohio.
“Health issues, employment training for job skills, for furthering education,” said Roche. “We have the highest drop-out rate in Cleveland and type 2 diabetes is epidemic.”
Roche said times are changing and the general public is now more aware of the racism faced by Indigenous people in the U.S.
“The public is more aware of racism and the inhumanity of it,” said Roche, in an interview Wednesday with APTN National News. “Before, people weren’t willing to look at it.”
“It’s time to acknowledge once and for all that the caricature represents a racially insensitive stereotype of Native Americans,” wrote the newspaper in its February 28 editorial.
Roche said the Cleveland Indian’s current stadium, which was completed in 1994, is also built on a burial ground.
This is not the first time the Cleveland Indians faced a lawsuit of this kind. Meissner was involved in another case dating back to 1971 that involved famed American Indian Movement leader Russell Means and nine other people.
The case resulted in an undisclosed settlement, but the team kept on using its name and logo.
The Cleveland Indians name dates back to 1915 and there is some dispute as to its origins.
The team claims the name was chosen in honour of Louis Sockalexis who played in 94 major league games for the Cleveland Spiders. He was signed in 1897, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. A member of the Penobscot Indian Tribe in Maine, Sockalexis faced racial taunts during his appearances on the field.
Team historians, however, say the name had little to do with honouring Sockalexis, but was the result of a contest held by the Plain Dealer.
A spokesperson said the Cleveland baseball team would not be commenting on the issue.