August 14, 2023

Heritage night honors Native Americans at Victory Field

A land acknowledgment plaque is presented at Victory Field. - (Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

A land acknowledgment plaque is presented at Victory Field.

(Jill Sheridan/WFYI)

A night of minor league baseball in downtown Indianapolis this weekend held special meaning for a group of Indiana’s Indigenous people.

A traditional smudge ceremony, dancing and drum performance and a land acknowledgement were part of a special program during Native American Heritage Night at Victory Field.

Chief Brian Buchanan of the Miami Nation of Indians of Indiana threw out the first pitch.  He and others have partnered with the ball team to create new Native American programming.

“We have the same goals to preserve our heritage and the Indians organization is going about it the right way as a professional organization,” Buchanan said.

Earlier this year the baseball team decided to keep the name ‘Indians’ — even as other professional sports teams removed names that many found offensive. 

Susan Charlesworth from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has been a part of discussions between the team and Indigenous Indiana people for the past two years. She said the name has deep roots.

“How could we keep a name that's very much a part of our state and our city and honor the people who were here first?” she said.

Charlesworth penned the acknowledgement that mentions numerous Native American nations and will be read before every Indianapolis Indians game.

She said she has received pushback from those who still believe a name change is needed.

“It's a very sensitive case, but my thought and mission on this was that all of us who are native, we're all related and people don't know we're still here,” Charlesworth said.

Buchanan says the program provides an opportunity to bring awareness to the state’s Native American history. 

“We don't need to change, we need to educate, educate and respect,” Buchanan said.

Indianapolis Indians Chairman and CEO Bruce Schumacher says the team plans to continue the partnership in the coming years.

“You might see our logos evolve. We've had the same look since 1993 and we might take a little guidance from them on what might be interesting in that regard,” Schumacher said.

The Indians also recognized tribe members who are military veterans at the game.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at jsheridan@wfyi.org.

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