CLEVELAND - An area Girl Scout troop is hoping to open eyes about how the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo mascot -- with a cartoonish red face, big smile and red feather on its head -- could be hurtful to those of American Indian descent.
Troop 165 recently held a public screening in suburban Garfield Heights of "WaWHO? Nothing is Sacred," a documentary produced by the Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement. During the event, youngsters took part in an American Indian art project and scouts who attended were able to earn a "Cultural Sensitivity" patch.
The patch features a red, white and blue heart and was designed for the troop by J.F. Novak Co., which manufactured the original Chief Wahoo logo in 1948.
"I guess we've really come around the bend," said J.F. Novak owner Eleanor Rusnak, who was a teenager when the logo was first designed. "People felt differently back then, and we didn't know how American Indians felt about the emblem. But it's become a whole different world, and I'm just glad I've gotten to live long enough to be a part of it."
Many American Indians consider Chief Wahoo a racist symbol that is disrespectful of their culture and spirituality and say the feather belittles the Indian symbol of a heroic warrior.
Troop 165 started learning about Chief Wahoo after they took a trip to see historical reenactments in Fredericksburg, Va.
A woman dressed in colonial garb was role playing when she told the troop of recent "Indian attacks" leading to mistrust of strangers. The comment prompted troop member Feather Shendo, 11, to wonder if her American Indian heritage made her unwelcome.
That's when troop leader Ann Marie Parker asked the girl's father, Robert Roche, if the group could visit his family's reservation in upstate New York.
Roche agreed but said none of the girls could wear clothes featuring Chief Wahoo.
Parker, at first, didn't understand the request because she, her husband and their nine children always liked the logo, with two of her children having the image tattooed on their legs. But her perspective changed after watching the documentary, which features interviews with American Indian activists, shows demonstrations outside Jacobs Field and offers details about groups who have tried to persuade the baseball team to drop the mascot.
Cleveland Indians spokesman Bob DiBiasio declined comment.
Roche, an Apache who teaches American Indian history at Oberlin College, is also executive director of Cleveland's American Indian Education Center.
"I would gladly show this film to anyone who is willing to listen," Roche said. "If people don't begin to recognize us as human beings, then how can they begin to understand our disparities? I'm nobody's mascot, and Feather is nobody's mascot. That's the bottom line."