In the open letter CEO Dante Desiderio offers to assist Exeter with "branding transition"

National Congress of American Indians call for Exeter Chiefs to retire branding

In an open letter to Exeter Chiefs, Dante Desiderio, CEO of the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), has asked the club to “retire all Native ‘themed’ imagery” and branding. 

In mid-October, in the wake of Wasps asking Premiership Rugby and the RFU to consider imposing a ban on the wearing of Native American headdresses by fans, Exeter chairman Tony Rowe told The Guardian: “Are all these people really getting upset in North America? I don’t quite believe that.”

However, today the NCAI – who say they are “the oldest, largest, and most representative organisation in the United States serving the broad interests of Tribal Nations and peoples” – said in their letter addressed directly to Rowe and Exeter’s trustee’s and members that it was time for a change.

Desiderio wrote: “We are writing to inform you that our objections extend to the branding employed by the Exeter ‘Chiefs’, specifically the logo, the venue names (e.g. the ‘Mohawk Bar’), the headdresses, and other uses of Native ‘themed’ collateral. The NCAI requests your support to retire all of the Native ‘themed’ imagery associated with the mascot branding of the Exeter ‘Chiefs’ Rugby Club.”

According to Rowe in his Guardian interview, club members will be able to voice their views at the club’s scheduled AGM on 24 November.

Desiderio added: “Ahead of the club member vote later this month, we wish to share with you resources documenting the ways this imagery and branding harms Native people through the offensive stereotypes it promotes, exemplified by Exeter ‘Chiefs’ fans’ misappropriation of culturally sacred headdresses and facepaint, and the degrading ‘tomahawk chop’ rituals they perform during matches.”

In recent times American football’s Washington Redskins and baseball’s Cleveland Indians have opted to rebrand themselves. And while some associated with Exeter have argue that the ‘Chiefs’ name has been used to brand first XVs throughout Devon, the Premiership club’s badge, fan attire and more have drawn ire.

The NCAI letter went on: “The will of Indian Country is clear – Native ‘themed’ mascot imagery and the dehumanising stereotypes it perpetuates must go. 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.

“Please know the NCAI is committed to working with the Exeter Rugby Club to aid in its mascot branding transition, including offering a tribal leader to share with your leadership, club members, and/or the Exeter community our perspective on this important issue.”

Also copied into the letter is Bill Sweeney, Tom Ilube, Simon Massie-Taylor and Andrew Higginson of the RFU.

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