Local baseball team's mascot draws criticism from Chumash leaders

The mascot of the North County Indians semi-pro baseball team, based in Templeton, has drawn criticism.
The mascot of the North County Indians semi-pro baseball team, based in Templeton, has drawn criticism.

Chumash leaders are asking a North County semi-pro baseball team to change its logo, which it says is demeaning to Native Americans.

The mascot for the North County Indians is a grinning, bright-red, Native American caricature that is based on the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo.

That mascot also has drawn criticism over the years, as have various similar logos from professional sports to Little League. The best-known pro sports teams that still have such logos are the Indians, Atlanta Braves, and Washington Redskins. All remain controversial.

Although the discussion has raged nationally for decades, it is new in San Luis Obispo County and was triggered by the North County Indians’ move from Santa Maria to Templeton.

The Indians played their first summer in Templeton last year but had been active in Santa Maria for more than 40 years.

The symbol is “degrading, immoral, racist, (and) disrespectful,” according to Fred Collins, tribal administrator of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council.

The Indians’ Facebook page has received similar comments, calling for a change in its “disrespectful” and “offensive” mascot.

Collins said his council will ask local political leaders to disallow the use of publicly owned facilities to the team.

The owner of the Indians, Kevin Haughian, did not return repeated requests for comment. But the field manager, Dan Marple, said he was caught off-guard by the accusation.

Marple said the Indians are the oldest semi-pro baseball franchise in the state, and, to his knowledge, nobody has complained before. He said he didn’t see the logo as a problem and does not consider it offensive. He noted that such teams as college football’s Florida Seminoles use similar names and mascots.

But Collins said the imagery is not used as much as it once was and that he would like to see it disappear altogether.

He acknowledged that many people accuse Native Americans of being overly sensitive or politically correct over the imagery. What adherents of those points of view need to do, he said, is “look at it from a Native American perspective.”

“You could say, ‘Lighten up. It’s not that big of a deal.’ But it is,” he said.

“We look at the imagery as a race of people,” Collins said, adding that you won’t see Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi as mascots on some team’s hat.

“It’s really an educational process,” he said of his attempts to have the logo changed. “Times have changed.”

Collins also stressed that he supports the team. The council merely wants it to change symbols.

Collins added that the council is not just concerned about baseball team logos. It also wants to go after so-called “cigar store Indians” — wooden sculptures of Native American chiefs selling cigars that he said are sprinkled throughout the county.

Collins hopes the day will come when his grandchildren won’t have to look at those effigies.

“Our chiefs are sacred to us,” he said. “You don’t see Jesus selling cigars.”