Chief Wahoo’s Last Stand: Cleveland Indians Mascot On Trial In Canada

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Image via MLB

The Chief Wahoo symbol of the Cleveland Indians may need to stay out of baseball in Canada.  Indigenous rights activist Douglas Cardinal, of Ontario Canada, has filed a lawsuit against The Cleveland Indians and the MLB. Cardinal’s pending case requests that a court order The Cleveland Indians to leave any reference to their mascot, Chief Wahoo, as well the team name “Indians” when they play in Toronto. Oral arguments in front of the court will take place by year’s end.

Chief Wahoo is a logo of the Cleveland Indians, a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise based in Cleveland, Ohio. The logo is a cartoon caricature of a stereotypical American Indian face. As part of the larger Native American mascot controversy, it has drawn criticism from American Indians, social scientists, and religious and educational groups, but remains popular among some fans of the Cleveland Indians baseball team and fans of baseball tradition.

Nevertheless, efforts have consistently been put forward to remove the logo which a growing number of individuals deem offensive. One of the individuals leading the charge is a Canadian architect based in Ottawa, Ontario named Douglas Cardinal. Cardinal was born of Métis Blackfoot/Kainai, German and Algonquin heritage. Cardinal firmly believes that the Chief Wahoo and Indians name is an affront to his heritage. Therefore, he filed a complaint in a Human Rights Tribunal in Ontario for its removal while the team plays in Toronto.

The Tribunal holds hearings to investigate complaints of discriminatory practices and may order a respondent to a complaint to cease a practice as well as levy fines. The United States does not have these types of tribunals, however, the final judgment in a Canadian tribunal functions the same as a court judgment.

Cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz via Universal Press Syndicate

Jo-Anne Pickel, an adjudicator for the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, ruled last month that despite objections posed by the Indians, Major League Baseball, and Canadian broadcaster and Blue Jays owner Rogers Communications that case should be allowed to move forward.

“From our standpoint, our client is not asking for something that’s impractical,” Paul-Erik Veel, one of the other lawyers who represent Cardinal in the court action. “They have uniforms that don’t use the particular logo and simply have the name “Cleveland” and a “C” on them already.” per his statement USA Today.

In separate filings, both The Indians, MLB, and Rogers argued that the Ontario court has no standing to hear the case since it deals with trademark law and that the Indians’ name and logo do not raise human rights issues. Pickel ruled against those objections on May 23.

Cardinal sought an immediate injunction last fall before the Indians were set to play Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in American League Championship Series. The Ontario Superior Court denied that request.

Cardinal followed with two other legal actions: one filed in the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario over the Indians use of the logo during games played Rogers Centre and another one of the federal court level with Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Pickel wrote in her ruling that she could let the case before Canadian Human Rights Commission play out before allowing the case proceed.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in April he’s had “productive discussions” with the Indians over the team’s usage of the Chief Wahoo, a logo labeled as “bigoted” and “despicable” by the Cleveland American Indian Movement this year.

“Commission Rob Manfred and Indians owner Paul Dolan have had on-going dialogue on the topic of Chief Wahoo since last October,” the Indians said in a statement released in April. “We certainly understand the sensitivities of the logo – those who find it insensitive and also those who have a long standing attachment to its place in the history of the team.”

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