What Is the Tomahawk Chop? Why Trump Faced Backlash Over Atlanta Braves Gesture

The controversial "tomahawk chop" gesture, which has been performed by fans since the 1980s at sports games, has come under renewed scrutiny following the Atlanta Braves' participation in the baseball World Series. The Braves clinched the series 4-2 against the Houston Astros on October 30.

Among those doing the chop gesture at Game 4 of the World Series was former U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump.

The couple joined fans in the act as the they viewed the match between the Braves and Astros from a private suite.

But what is the Tomahawk chop and why is it so controversial?

What Is the Tomahawk Chop?

The tomahawk is an axe used by various indigenous groups of North America. Its English name was derived from the Algonquian word "otomahuk," which means "to knock down."

The "tomahawk chop" has been performed by sports fans to cheer on teams with Native American names or mascots, including 2020 Super Bowl winners Kansas City Chiefs. The tradition sees them break into a "war chant" while making a chopping hand motion.

Donald Trump and Melania gesturing "tomahawk chop."
Former president Donald Trump and his wife Melania seen doing the "tomahawk chop" at an Atlanta Braves baseball game on October 30, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. Elsa/Getty Images

Why Is Trump Being Criticized for Doing the Tomahawk Chop?

The former president was criticized for taking part in the "degrading" fan ritual, which has been condemned by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

Mike Singleton, a former senior executive at NBCUniversal, tweeted: "Trump and Melania do racist 'tomahawk chop' at Atlanta Braves World Series game because, of course, it's Trump and Melania."

Deondre Smiles, a professor at the University of Victoria, added: "Of course Trump showed up and did the tomahawk Chop. Used, washed up old racist stereotypes are like a beacon to him and his base."

Trump and Melania do racist ‘Tomahawk chop’ at Atlanta Braves World Series game because, of course, it’s Trump and Melania. pic.twitter.com/7dAeS10NVV

— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) October 31, 2021

Of course Trump showed up and did the Tomahawk Chop. Used, washed up old racist stereotypes are like a beacon to him and his base.

— Deondre A. Smiles, Ph.D. (@DeondreSmiles) October 31, 2021

In a statement last week ahead of the game, the NCAI called on Major League Baseball (MLB) and the FOX Broadcasting Company to "refrain from showing the 'tomahawk chop' when it is performed during the nationally televised World Series games in Atlanta."

Last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred claimed the Native American community in the Atlanta region "is wholly supportive of the Braves program, including the [tomahawk] chop. For me, that's the end of the story."

However, NCAI president Fawn Sharp stated on October 27: "In our discussions with the Atlanta Braves, we have repeatedly and unequivocally made our position clear–Native people are not mascots, and degrading rituals like the 'tomahawk chop' that dehumanize and harm us have no place in American society."

Sharp said that in addition to the "tomahawk chop," the term "Braves" in the team's name as well as the tomahawk seen on the team's uniform "depict and caricature not just one tribal community but all Native people, and that is certainly how baseball fans and Native people everywhere interpret them."

Sundance, a member of the Muskogee tribe who is the director of the Cleveland branch of the American Indian Movement, told ABC's Good Morning America the use of Native American imagery in sports is "a way for the dominant culture to pretend that atrocities against native peoples did not happen."

The American Indian Movement is among several organizations that have urged national and local sports teams with indigenous names and mascots to change their names for over half a century.

"We are a marginalized and victimized population. And that appropriation is being done by the same culture that marginalized and victimized [us]," Sundance said.

NCAI, the oldest and largest American Indian and Alaska Native tribal government organization in the U.S., has been leading the movement to remove Native "themed" mascots from sports and popular culture since 1968.

The NCAI explains the use of Native American sports mascots, logos and symbols "perpetuates stereotypes of American Indians that are very harmful."

The group says the "warrior savage" myth reinforces "the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated and it has been used to justify policies of forced assimilation and destruction of Indian culture."

Newsweek has contacted Trump, Major League Baseball and the American Indian Movement Grand Governing Council for comment.

Fans doing the "tomahawk chop" gesture.
Fans doing the "tomahawk chop" gesture at an Atlanta Braves baseball game back in July 2013. Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images