BOSTON (AP) — The manager of the Atlanta Braves sees
it as a harmless way to fire up his team. A spokesman for the Navajo Nation’s president says it’s a display of such profound ignorance, it’s hard to be offended.
But for rivals in a tight U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, the “tomahawk chop” is the latest flashpoint in a campaign weighted with questions about which candidate is more credible.
This week, the Democrat-leaning Blue Mass Group posted video online showing staffers from Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s campaign performing the chop, along with war whoops and chants, while standing among supporters of challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Warren has made unverified claims of American Indian ancestry, and Brown has used that to question her trustworthiness and whether the Harvard professor used her claim for gain in the hyper-diversity-conscious academic world.
But after the video surfaced, Brown was on the defensive, and the chop was in the spotlight.
Warren said she was appalled, and the principal chief of Cherokee Nation called it “offensive and downright racist.” Others had more tempered reactions. Erny Zah, spokesman for the president’s office of the Navajo Nation, said, “The ignorance is just so blatantly obvious, it’s not really worth getting upset about.”
Even so, he added, it’s a clear mockery of Indian culture.
“Whether they’re trying to make fun of a political candidate ... or they’re rooting for their sports team, it’s based in ignorance,” Zah said.
The tomahawk chop is a rhythmic up-and-down motion made in time with a “war chant.” Florida State University takes credit for inventing the cheer, though it doesn’t call it the tomahawk chop, which
is a term associated with the Braves.
Back in the mid-1980s, the Seminole football boosters asked a student spirit group, then called the Scalphunters, to create a cheer to compete with the University of Florida’s two-armed “Gator chomp,” said Florida State alum Tom Desjardin.