'Tomahawk chop' under scrutiny as Atlanta Braves compete in World Series

This comes amid a movement to remove Native American imagery from sports.

November 02, 2021, 5:05 AM

The Atlanta Braves are one win away from potentially securing their fourth World Series title, but their name and a gesture used by fans have come under scrutiny from Native American advocates around the country.

The gesture is known as the "tomahawk chop" and has been used by fans of various teams -- from the high school level to the pros -- to cheer on teams with Native American names or mascots. The tomahawk is an axe that is native to the indigenous people of North America and at Braves games many fans hold up red foam tomahawks or wear Braves gear displaying the image.

Former President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the fans who did the chop at Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that the Native American community in the Atlanta region "is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that's the end of the story."

PHOTO: Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves hits a grand slam home run against Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros during the first inning in Game Five of the World Series at Truist Park on Oct. 31, 2021, in Atlanta.
Adam Duvall of the Atlanta Braves hits a grand slam home run against Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros during the first inning in Game Five of the World Series at Truist Park on Oct. 31, 2021, in Atlanta.
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

But views on the gesture are varied and some Native American tribes in Georgia pushed back on Manfred's claim.

ABC News' request for comment to the MLB and the Atlanta Braves were not returned.

The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the country’s oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization, issued a response on Wednesday that disputes Manfred's statement.

"In our discussions with the Atlanta Braves, we have repeatedly and unequivocally made our position clear – Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the ‘tomahawk chop’ that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society," NCAI President Fawn Sharp said.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump do "the chop" prior to Game Four of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta.
Former President Donald Trump and former first lady Melania Trump do "the chop" prior to Game Four of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta.
Getty Images

Heather Whiteman Runs Him, a law professor and director of the Tribal Justice Clinic at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told "Good Morning America" that using Native American imagery in sports dehumanizes the community and behavior like the tomahawk chop "indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of who Native Americans are."

"I think the team needs to condemn that behavior," Whiteman Runs Him said, "and to begin the process of educating and taking a lead in raising awareness about our actual identities, the actual complexities of our cultures, our present-day reality, as well as the many problems in our mutual history."

Although the Braves dropped Chief Noc-A-Homa as its mascot in 1985, the team's name originates from a term that is used to describe a Native American warrior.

PHOTO: A fan holds a sign stating "the chop is racist" during the ninth inning in Game One of the World Series during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 26, 2021, in Houston.
A fan holds a sign stating "the chop is racist" during the ninth inning in Game One of the World Series during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park on Oct. 26, 2021, in Houston.
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Sundance, a member of the Muskogee tribe, is the director of the Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement -- one of the organizations that has been urging national and local teams with indigenous names and mascots to change their names for more than 50 years.

He told "Good Morning America" that appropriating Native American imagery in sports is "a way for the dominant culture to pretend that atrocities against native peoples did not happen."

"We are a marginalized and victimized population. And that appropriation is being done by the same culture that marginalized and victimized [us]," he added.

The Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement was one of the groups that was instrumental in advocating for the name change of the Cleveland Indians -- now known as the Cleveland Guardians.

Following decades of backlash from the Native American community, Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team announced in December 2020 that the franchise will change its name and revealed in July that the new name is now the Guardians.

PHOTO: Atlanta Braves fans perform the tomahawk chop cheer before Game 4 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves, Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta.
Atlanta Braves fans perform the tomahawk chop cheer before Game 4 of baseball's World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves, Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta.
Brynn Anderson/AP

This came after Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, said in July 2020 that the team would change its name to the Washington Football Team, after FedEx, which has naming rights to the stadium, requested a change.

Sundance previously told ABC News that the movement to remove Native American imagery from sports teams has been going on for decades but gained new momentum over the past year amid nationwide protests and an energized civil rights movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd.

According to a FiveThirtyEight analysis, hundreds of schools across the country still use Native Americans as their team mascots.

"We would like to see [the Atlanta Braves] step up to the plate, change the team name, get rid of that logo and, I figure, the Tomahawk chop will chop will itself," Sundance said.

ABC News' Matthew Yahata contributed to this report.

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