Professional sports teams have been dogged with accusations of cultural impropriety. The Washington Redskins and the Atlanta Braves have come under fire for offensive team names. Chief Wahoo, the cartoonish mascot of Cleveland Indians, was officially retired from team uniforms in 2018.
Last weekend, the NBA made a move to amend some of those wrongs by hosting Indigenous Night at the San Antonio Spurs’ home game against the Miami Heat.
Spurs Guard Patty Mills is a native of Australia with indigenous Australian roots via his mother. He also has Torres Strait Islander ties from his father’s side. Mills reached out a year ago to make a connection with the indigenous population of San Antonio.
Ramón Vásquez is executive officer for the Tāp Pīlam Coahuiltecan Nation. Tāp Pīlam are the descendants of the early peoples of what is today northern Mexico and South Texas.
Vásquez said indigenous peoples around the world are having their history erased.
Mills’ own mother was a victim of the Stolen Generations, in which indigenous Australians were removed from their families to live with non-indigenous families.
Forced removal is not unique to Australia. Here in the U.S., native children were removed from their families to become Americanized at government boarding schools. Or as one 19th century cavalry officer said, “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”
Vásquez says education and events like the recent Indigenous Night hosted by the San Antonio Spurs are vital to indigenous awareness.