This year the Spokane Indians will wear jerseys with "Spokane" written in the Salish script. (Courtesy of the Spokane Indians)

This year the team’s jerseys will feature “Spokane” written in the Salish script. (Courtesy of the Spokane Indians)

The Spokane Indians, a Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, have unveiled a new alternate jersey celebrating the team’s partnership with the local tribe for which the team is named. Benjamin Hill, who writes for MiLB.com, the official website of Minor League Baseball, joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: Benjamin, let’s start with a description of the uniform jersey members of the Spokane Indians will be wearing for their home opener in June.

 BH: The team is going to be wearing jerseys with the word “Spokane,” but in script of the Salish Tribe—that’s the language spoken by the local, Spokane Indian tribe. When you look at it you can immediately tell that it’s not just S-P-O-K-A-N-E. It is written in the Salish script.

BL: Well, skeptics might be tempted to dismiss that jersey as a gimmick, but appreciation of the Spokane Tribe by the team’s owners has a history. Tell us about that.

BH: The core members of the team’s front office have been in place for about two decades, and when they took over the team wasn’t using any Native American logos, imagery, mascots whatsoever. Prior to the 2007 season they unveiled a new logo that was a collaboration with the tribe itself in which it again used some Salish script and included eagle feathers, which are sacred symbols in their culture.

BL: The signs at the ballpark (telling people where they should enter and stuff like that) where the Indians play are in two languages: English and the Salish dialect, which I understand is in danger of disappearing. Is the team involved in other efforts to preserve the language of the tribe?

BH: I don’t think they’re involved specifically in terms of leading those efforts but there’s a lot of efforts right now within Spokane, just the city of Spokane, to do that exact thing. There’s a school that was started I think just two or three years ago dedicated to teaching people the language. There’s a full immersion kindergarten and elementary school program in which these kids speak Salish every day.

BL: In connection with protests against the name of the NFL team playing in Washington, D.C., you have written that with regard to team names like “Indians,” at least, “controversy need not be the norm.” What else are the Spokane Indians doing to encourage cooperation and respect rather than controversy?

BH: With these jerseys, at the end of the year when they auction them off, the money from the auction will go back to the Salish Tribe. Portions from the jersey sales throughout the season will go back to the tribe. So I think it’s just about always thinking about ways in which this can be a partnership and it’s not just the team dictating to the tribe, “OK, this is what we’re going to do.”