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Native Americans welcome Cleveland's home opener for first time

After decades of demonstrations against the club's old name and logo, some say they are ready to celebrate with baseball fans.

CLEVELAND — For decades, Native Americans have gathered at Progressive Field during the home opener to demonstrate against the Cleveland ballclub's name and logo: the Indians and Chief Wahoo.

But with the debut of the Guardians this year, some of the city's real Cleveland Indians are finally welcoming the start of the baseball season.

"It was a huge relief to know that our efforts can now go to our communities," Jessie Vallejo said this week as she and her 8-year-old daughter Lucia walked outside the ballpark.

Vallejo, who is part Yaqui and Mexican, is secretary of the Committee of 500 Years of Dignity and Resistance, which advocates for indigenous cultures through education and activism. It’s been behind the home opener protests for decades.

"We will never have to protest again," she declared. "Our efforts and livelihoods can go into other things."

The committee hopes to spend more time convincing high schools to drop names and logos that are racist stereotypes and misappropriate their culture.

"I think we still have some way to go when it comes to culture and respect," Vallejo said.  

Vellejo and her family are baseball fans, but struggled to support the old team.

"We have been forgetting about the true Americans in celebrating this game of baseball by not recognizing this name is racist all along," she lamented.

She said she lined up to buy Guardians gear the first day it went on sale, both to support the team and to be a little "nosey" about the reaction from fans.

"We feel proud to share community with people who go to see baseball games," she said, "and feel safe to take our children there knowing they will also not experience some of the hateful things that have happened to our elders in the past."

And a win at the home opener doesn't matter, she adds.

"Knowing that we can all celebrate together," she stated, "that is the victory for me."

Here is a statement about the home opener released today by the Lake Erie Native American Council.  

"Today marks the beginning of a new era in Cleveland history. We now have a professional baseball team that is more welcoming and inclusive to all Clevelanders. A team that no longer stereotypes or harms Native Americans with an offensive and problematic team name and mascot. We stand on the shoulders of those in our native community who were in the fight before us and laid the foundation of perseverance over the last six decades let the Cleveland guardians be a shining example to the nearly 200 K through 12 schools in Ohio that still embrace Native American mascots and team names that not only is change possible but it is necessary for a more inclusive and bright future."

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