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Atlanta Braves in World Series: What’s next for Native Americans?

By David Pendered

Three incongruences around consideration of Native Americans are occurring in real-time in metro Atlanta, just as a national dialogue is spurred by the Federal Reserve, Biden administration and cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Oct. 19, a cannon was removed from the Decatur Square after 115 years of commemorating the expulsion of Native Americans from Georgia. (Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The first local example is all over the media – the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. The franchise has not been renamed, though it’s been discussed previously. The team retired mascot Chief Noc-a-Homa in 1986 over a reported pay dispute. He was replaced by the tomahawk chop.

Last month, a statue portraying the Noble Savage was placed in Midtown until it’s moved to a city park. The sculpture shows an American stereotypical ideal of a Native American: A chiseled male clad in a loincloth with feathers in his hair. The image traces its lineage to interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a French philosopher in the 1700s. Rousseau never wrote the words “noble savage,” according to John Scott’s translation, just as Chief Tomochichi has no direct links to North Georgia.

This month, a cannon was removed from the Decatur Square. Its purpose was to commemorate “the Indian War of 1836,” which resulted in the expulsion of Native Americans from Georgia. The United Daughters of the Confederacy installed the cannon in 1906 until they could raise money for a Confederate Memorial Obelisk, which was erected in 1908 and removed in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves’ uniform projects the team name and tomahawk. (Image from facebook.com/braves)

These actions spur questions about the past, present and future considerations of American Indians. The national discussion over race and inclusion of Black people that gained momentum following the 2020 death of George Floyd has grown to include other groups that suffered and continue to suffer from discrimination. Just last week, at a webinar hosted by Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic, the issue of broken treaties and resulting impacts on Indigenous peoples in Michigan was a focus of remarks by the director of Indigenous Law and Policy Center, at Michigan State University.

In Decatur, one question is what, if anything, is appropriate to put into the void created by the removal of the cannon. The conversation is being led by a grassroots organization, the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights. It played a significant role in the removal of the Confederate monument and cannon.

A successor monument is one idea. This could fit with an unrelated proposal to replace the Confederate memorial with a monument to John Lewis. If the cannon is to be replaced, ideas abound about the message to convey.

Perhaps a theme that ties the removal of Native Americans with the Black slaves imported to Georgia during the African diaspora. Maybe something about missing and murdered Indigenous women. Or the Indian Civilization Act of 1819 that took Indigenous children from their families for placement in boarding schools to be assimilated – a practice through the 1960s that is fueling four cases now pending before the Supreme Court.

The statue ‘What Sonia Said’ attracted John Winterhawk Johnson, a potter who identifies with the Southeast Muscogee nation (left), and an unidentified youth. (Photos by Paul McLennan (left) and Fonta High)

These types of concepts informed a sculpture placed Sept. 12 on the grounds of two once-segregated schools in Decatur, now known as the Beacon Municipal Complex. Artist Ellex Swavoni drew inspiration for the artwork, “What Sonia Said,” from Sonia Sanchez’ message about the strength of personal power in her poem, “Catch the Fire.” The artwork was sponsored by Beacon Hill Black Alliance, Decatur Arts Alliance and Decatur Makers.

A snapshot of three national conversations on considerations related to Native Americans includes:

Federal Reserve

  • The ninth edition in the “Racism and the Economy” series explored proposals intended to reduce racial barriers to wealth accumulation. Speakers brought forward ideas related to American Indians and Asian Pacific Americans, with issues of land ownership a particular concern in Hawaii.

Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

Some federal boarding schools were mini cities, as was the Oneida Indian Boarding School in Oneida, Wis. in 1919. (Photo by unknown author via wikimedia.org)

  • Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced June 22 an investigation into federal boarding schools that housed children of Indigenous peoples. Under auspices of the ”Indian Civilization Act” of 1819, Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their families and put into schools that were to suppress their native cultures, convert them to Christianity and civilize them. Some children are thought to have died and been buried in unmarked graves. The probe was sparked by the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at a boarding school in Canada, which had a similar practice of forced assimilation.

U.S. Supreme Court

  • Four cases address the federal Indian Child Welfare Act, of 1978. The court has not announced a decision on taking any or all of these cases. Parties have until Nov. 8 to submit papers.
  • Texas filed a case that states clearly the central issue involved: “Whether Congress has the power under the Indian Commerce Clause or otherwise to enact laws governing state child-custody proceedings merely because the child is or may be an Indian.”
  • Congress declared its intent for the laws as: “The Congress hereby declares that it is the policy of this Nation to protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards for the removal of Indian children from their families and the placement of such children in foster or adoptive homes which will reflect the unique values of Indian culture, and by providing for assistance to Indian tribes in the operation of child and family service programs.”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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2 Comments

  1. Philip Clinch October 25, 2021 9:47 pm

    Renaming Cobb County to the Native American name Kennesaw County would commemorate the pre-European inhabitants of the area west of the Chattahoochee.Report

    Reply
  2. JB October 26, 2021 10:06 am

    For decades Atlanta has continued to hurt itself – crime, taxes, noise pollution, traffic, overbuilding, crumbling infrastructure, mayors (except for Franklin) whose ambition for greater things clouded their duties to the people who elected them. We’ve moved far away from the City of Atlanta and have no regrets. Horrified to think the likes of Kassim Reid will be re-elected its mayor.Report

    Reply

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