Native Americans call on Exeter Chiefs rugby to change 'racist' name

Native Americans call on Exeter Chiefs rugby team to change their ‘degrading, racist’ name and stop fans wearing traditional headdresses in cultural appropriation row

  • American Indian organisation has called on Exeter Chiefs to change their name
  • NCAI urged the rugby club to drop its logo and stop fans wearing headdresses
  • The club has so far resisted pressure to change its name but retired its mascot 
  • It comes after the Wasps described the headdresses as ‘cultural appropriation’ 

An American Indian rights organisation has called on Premiership Rugby club Exeter Chiefs to change their ‘racist’ name and stop fans wearing traditional headdresses.

The Exeter Chiefs, who adopted the name in 1999 but have been known as the Chiefs since the 1930s, have so far resisted pressure to pick a new name.

But the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) chief executive Dante Desiderio has backed the call for change and has asked the rugby club to drop their logo.

It comes after the club’s mascot Big Chief was retired last year following accusations that the branding is racist towards Native Americans.

In a letter to the Exeter Chiefs, Mr Desiderio called on the club to stop fans from wearing headdresses and drop the use of names for various venues such as the ‘Wigwam Bar’.

The National Congress of American Indians’ has called for the Exeter Chiefs rugby club to change their ‘racist’ name and stop fans wearing headdresses (pictured in December 2020)

In a statement, he said: ‘The will of Indian Country is clear – Native ‘themed’ mascot imagery and the dehumanising stereotypes it perpetuates must go.’

Headdresses have been worn by Exeter fans since the club first rebranded as in 1999.

Other requests from Mr Desiderio included stopping ‘uses of Native ‘themed’ collateral’, including the use of the ‘tomahawk chop’ by fans, which he described as ‘degrading’. 

He continued: ‘Out of respect for tribal sovereignty, we ask that you heed the voices of tribal leaders representing hundreds of Tribal Nations and the organisations that serve their citizens – not the voices of a few select individuals – when working to understand where Indian Country broadly stands on this issue.’

Mr Desiderio said the NCAI is committed to working with the rugby club to ‘aid in its mascot branding transition’, including offering a trial leader to share their perspective with the club and the community on the issue.

It comes after the Wasps asked the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Premiership Rugby to review the wearing of Native American headdresses by Exeter Chief fans, describing it as ‘cultural appropriation’.

The Coventry-based club was responding to an open letter from its own fan club when it raised the issue on its website. 

They said fans will not be banned from wearing them but will be discouraged from doing so as they ‘have the potential to cause offence’. 

The Exeter Chiefs, who adopted the name in 1999, have so far resisted pressure to change its name. Pictured: Fan wearing a headdress in February 2019

The club said it will ‘encourage the entire rugby community to take action against inequality and other forms of discrimination’ and invited the sport’s governing body to make a ruling.

It cited continued racist abuse against ‘high profile sports stars’, the Black Lives Matter movement and ‘rising intolerance’ towards LGBTQI+ people as events which put issues of diversity and inclusion to the forefront.

‘Many topics and behaviours which were once tolerated, such as cultural appropriation, are no longer acceptable,’ the club wrote.

‘Even though we do not want to create a professionally offended society, we do need to recognise that times and opinions change.’

They admitted they had ‘found it difficult to know how best to deal with this issue’ and had consulted with external parties including members of the Native American community.

The club engaged with sponsors, fans and the Native American community.

In July last year, the Chiefs confirmed their ‘Big Chief’ mascot would be retired but will retain their name and logo following accusations that the branding is racist towards Native Americans.

The NCAI’s chief executive Dante Desiderio has asked the rugby club to drop their logo (pictured), after the club has been accused of ‘cultural appropriation’

A board review was launched after more than 3,700 supporters signed a petition for the club to change its ‘harmful imagery and branding’. The mascot was ditched as a ‘mark of respect’. 

The team have also previously been criticised by ‘Exeter Chiefs for Change’ aiming to amend the name, which called the decision to keep the name ‘tone deaf’.

In a statement released at the time, a spokesperson for Exeter Chiefs said it had carried out a ‘detailed review’ of the club’s branding.

It added: ‘Content provided to the board indicated that the name Chiefs dated back into the early 1900s and had a long history with people in the Devon area.

‘The board took the view that the use of the Chiefs logo was in fact highly respectful. It was noted over the years we have had players and coaches from around the world with a wide range of nationalities and cultures. 

‘At no time have any players, coaches or their families said anything but positive comments about the branding or culture that exists at the club.

‘The one aspect which the board felt could be regarded as disrespectful was the club’s mascot ‘Big Chief’ and as a mark of respect have decided to retire him.

‘The club will be making no further comment on the matter.’

MailOnline has contacted Exeter Chiefs for comment. 

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