Chiefs of tribal nations that once inhabited Georgia say that the Atlanta Braves’ tomahawk chop is insensitive and inappropriate.
The comments from Cherokee and Creek chiefs come after the Atlanta Braves said the team would hold a “continued dialogue” with Native Americans during the Major League Baseball offseason about whether to keep the decades-old tradition.
The Braves did not specify which tribal nations it planned to talk to.
“Although the Tomahawk Chop may be a game day tradition, it is not an appropriate acknowledgment of tribal tradition or culture,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief James R. Floyd said in a statement to CNN. “It reduces Native Americans to a caricature and minimizes the contributions of Native peoples as equal citizens and human beings.”
The tomahawk chop involves fans moving their forearms forward and backward with an open palm in a chopping motion and is usually accompanied by chants. The motion started at Florida State University but was adopted by the Braves in 1991 following the signing of former FSU three-sport star Deion Sanders. It’s now widely associated with the Braves, who often leave foam tomahawks for fans on seats during home games.
The tomahawk chop has long raised objections about the way it depicts Native Americans. Earlier this month, that debate was reignited when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley criticized the tomahawk after Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
“I think it’s a misrepresentation of the Cherokee people or Native Americans in general,” Helsley, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s not me being offended by the whole mascot thing. It’s not. It’s about the misconception of us, the Native Americans, and it devalues us and how we’re perceived in that way, or used as mascots.”
“That’s the disappointing part. That stuff like this still goes on. It’s just disrespectful, I think,” he added.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. praised Helsley.
“The Cherokee Nation is proud of tribal citizen and Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley for speaking out against stereotypes and standing up for the dignity of Native Americans in this country,” he said in a statement to CNN. “Hopefully Ryan’s actions will better inform the national conversation about inappropriate depictions of Native Americans.”
The Braves announced before Game 5 of the NLDS that it would “reduce” the use of the tomahawk chop by not distributing the foam souvenirs on seats and not playing the accompanying music or using chop-related graphics when Helsley was in the game.
But those changes were only for Game 5, which marked the end of the postseason for the Braves after a 13-1 loss to the Cardinals. It remains to be seen whether the team will eliminate the controversial tradition.
Beth Marshall, a representative for the Braves, referred CNN to an earlier statement, and said that she would provide an update when there is more information available.
“We appreciate and take seriously the concerns of Mr. Helsley and have worked to honor and respect the Native American community through the years. Our organization has sought to embrace all people and highlight the many cultures in Braves Country,” the Braves statement said.
“We will continue to evaluate how we activate elements of our brand, as well as the in-game experience, and look forward to a continued dialogue with those in the Native American community once the season comes to an end.”