ATLANTA — The video in the player above is from July 2020.
The Tomahawk Chop is a forwards and backward movement of the arm that fans do with an open palm traditionally done in celebration at Atlanta Braves games. It simulates chopping that would be done with a Tomahawk, a single-handed ax with a straight shaft, originally constructed by Native Americans. It was used as a general-purpose tool, weapon, and ceremonial tool, according to the Native American history blog Kachina House.
Among the reasons the chop is offensive is it promotes a racist stereotype or caricature of Native Americans.
From a fan perspective, the Tomahawk chop gesture has held multiple functions throughout the years such as building crowd participation, distracting the opposing teams, or even just being a symbol in photos to show "support" and connection for the Braves.
The motion began when Florida State Seminoles alum Deion Sanders joined the team in the 90s, and it has since become a popular fan tradition. The commotion around the gesture, however, began in 2019 when St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley called out the Braves after playing in Atlanta, calling the chop "disrespectful." Helsley is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
What Native American advocacy groups say about the chop
A spokesperson from the Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns said he didn't have a negative reaction to the Tomahawk Chop.
"Personally, I feel that. Something that is done in the times that Tomahawk Chop is done, and it's something I've grown up a lot in my life in Georgia and seeing that a lot, but partially the time in the game that ... action is done. Big moments unifying the crowd for a positive experience ... I personally don't have any issues with that," Donald Kirkland the Vice Chairman of the council said.
Kirkland went on to say the Braves have been very supportive and have "actively engaged" with the state tribes.
However, in 2020, another advocacy group had differing views.
In July 2020, the Primary Chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokees (EBCI), Richard Sneed, said the organization had begun a partnership with Braves. The letter read, in part:
"The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been exploring a potential partnership with the Atlanta Braves for several months following discussions about the cultural sensitivity of the Braves’ Tomahawk Chop. As a people proud of our own identity, we do not support cultural appropriation or any disrespectful representation of Native nations. We believe that candid, thoughtful conversations are crucial to educating leaders and bringing about positive change. As such, we have committed to working with the Atlanta Braves as they explore opportunities to represent Native Nations more appropriately. I applaud the Braves’ willingness to engage in this effort and look forward to continuing to build the relationship the EBCI shares with them to present a model for how other professional sports teams can work with Native Nations in a respectful and constructive manner."
As far as the mascot and the name, which were also topics of controversy, they are here to stay.
Last July, the Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk and team president Derek Schiller said they had spoken with Native American groups and would remain the Atlanta Braves.
"Through our conversations, changing the name of the Braves is not under consideration or deemed necessary," a statement said. "We will always be the Atlanta Braves.
The Atlanta Braves used to use the phrase "Chop On" but quietly discontinued using it.
Where does the Tomahawk Chop stand in 2021 as the World Series continues
Both groups previously told 11Alive it was something they were evaluating in 2020. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said the matter is between the Native American community and the Atlanta Braves. During an interview ahead of Game 1 on Tuesday, Manfred said, "The Braves have done a phenomenal job with the Native American community."
He went on to say the Native American community "is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the chop. For me, that's the end of the story."
11Alive reached out to EBCI but did not receive an immediate response on Wednesday, Oct. 27. We also asked the Braves organization about their current stance on the Tomahawk Chop and have not yet received a response.
In 2020, Schiller and McGuirk said, "As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group."
For now, the fans are still chopping and it may take an official stance from the club for the gesture to stop.
This story will be updated appropriately when the perspective organizations provide an update.