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Indigenous People Say Indianapolis Indians Should Change Team Name

Victory Field Sunset

Sunset during an Indianapolis Indians baseball game, Victory Field, Indianapolis, Indiana. (peterrieke, Pixabay)

The Cleveland Indians’ name will change to the Cleveland Guardians for the 2022 major league baseball season, leaving Indianapolis’s minor league team in the middle of its own controversy.

Carolina Castoreno-Santana, executive director of the American Indian Center of Indiana, said the Indianapolis Indians team should change its name.

“But with indigenous people, we are literally, overwhelmingly, saying ‘We are not okay with this,’” she said. “We are not mascots, we are humans. Pick something else.”

Castoreno-Santana said indigenous people do not have agency in the name of a sport team, nor is the mascot particularly symbolic of Indiana. Compared to the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers, the minor league team’s name singles out a specific community.

“What is it about colts, baby horses, that is emblematic of Indiana over other locations? It’s not. It’s a nickname, it’s a mascot, so it should be a real easy fix,” she said. “ We’re still going to be Indianapolis at the end of the day.”   
Carolina Castoreno-Santana

Jesse Steinfeldt is a sports psychologist at the IU Bloomington School of Education who has researched the effects of Native-themed mascots and nicknames. He said teams feel little to no impact when changing mascots.

“People, initially, will have a reaction,” Steinfeldt said. “They’ll be up in arms, ‘you can’t change, take this away from us.’ But what we see over time, the donations of a college alumni base don’t change, the fan fervor does not change. The way that people follow the team who they identify with, who they love, who they’re passionate about, it doesn’t change over time.” 

Steinfeldt said teams such as the Cleveland Guardians will be on the right side of history 20 years down the road.

While the name change may annoy the occasional fan, he said it will ultimately do good for Native American communities, specifically children.

“These mascots activate stereotypical representations and limit them to past tense people and the idea of the noble savage or the savage warrior- things that don’t represent who or what contemporary American Indian people are,” Steinfeldt said.    



Endorsement from specific indigenous nations has value, but that is a more nuanced conversation. For example, the NCAA enacted a rule in 2005 requiring its institutions to obtain permission to continue using Native-themed mascots. More than one dozen schools made changes, but a select few received exemptions.

Florida State University received an endorsement from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, but members of the larger Seminole Nation of Oklahoma objected.

“If you hear one person say, ‘I’m Indian, I like it,’ then that seems to trump everything else that happens in the conversation,” he said. “All of the 500 tribal resolutions that are on the books saying ‘don’t do this, this is problematic,’ have a little more value.”  

A spokesperson for the Indianapolis team said a nickname committee was formed last summer, and discussions are ongoing regarding changing the name.  

In a statement, the committee said it has nothing new to report at this time.

This story has been updated with quotes from Jesse Steinfeldt.

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