Sometimes people write to me or say things to me like, “Being politically correct sucks! You just can’t say anything to anyone anymore without someone getting offended.”
And I wonder why people think we have to make fun of each other’s culture/race/religion/etc. to laugh. Or why we have to steal symbols and objects from other cultures and claim them as our own, for our own selfish purposes. To me, these are two sides to the same coin: on one side, a culture is made fun of for being different, on the other side, names/symbols/objects/ideas are stolen precisely because they are different.
I try my best to be considerate of other cultures. I don’t find it hard at all. In fact, by doing so, I believe I have become more respectful and sensitive to others. It’s not a hindrance or hardship for me to refrain from making fun of others.
So I’ve never desired to play sports for teams that are called: Whiteskins, Chinamen, Crackers, Blackskins, Rednecks, Honkys, Pilgrims or the dreaded “N” word -- all of which are made up sports names (I hope).
Sorry, was that shocking? Great. Then you’ll understand what I’m about to write next.
In all my years living on reserves, never once were my sports teams ever called any of the following: Chiefs, Redskins, Indians, Braves, Red Raiders, Reds, Redmen, Savages, Eskimos, Warriors, etc.
No, usually we were Eagles, or Screaming Eagles, or Bears, or some variation of animal names.
Isn’t that strange? Considering every reserve I lived on were full of First Nations people, and if all the former names I listed made us so proud, why wouldn’t we use them ourselves?
Because names like Chiefs, Redskins, Indians, Braves, Red Raiders, Reds, Redmen, Savages, Eskimos, Warriors, etc. don’t bring pride and honour to First Nations people. They make us angry, annoyed, and offended. People who suggest otherwise often say that they’re respecting First Nations people by using these names.
Some believe that using these names is a great place to teach history of First Nations and European relations, like Michael Lazarus argues in his article “Anti-Racist Measures Take Culture Away from Sports.”
Maybe in theory, but this seems a pretty lofty and far-fetched idea, considering that zero history is ever discussed or taught about First Nations and European relations when talking about these teams, and yet these racist and stereotypical symbols, mascots and gestures (Tomahawk chop? Really??) are repeatedly flashed before our eyes.
When sports broadcasters take time between announcing play-by-plays and start spouting historical facts like the torments of residential schools, the pass system, the Indian Act and poverty on reserves, then I’ll agree.
Yes, if this happened, these names would be a great way to bring awareness. But I don’t see that happening, because then people would argue that sports broadcasters should focus on the sports, not history. Therein lies the contradiction. So, if these teams want to focus on sports, fine, they should. Then choosing a new name and a new logo shouldn’t be a problem.
Once in a while you’ll even hear First Nations people who are in favor of the names/symbols/mascots/gestures remaining the same. It’s a terrible shame. Those First Nations people who argue in favour of such things often don’t want to cause any ripples, or perhaps they’re happy in complacency, the product of effective assimilation efforts. Feel sorry for them, and then hand them this column.
There have been times that I’ve been quiet. Such as when I interned at Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon, home of the Redmen, complete with a nice romantic symbol of a First Nations cartoon head, feathers and all. I didn’t like it, but I stayed silent because I was afraid it would cost me my internship. I’m not proud of that now, so today I’ll write in favour of them changing their name and logo.
I agree with the Facebook group, called “Bedford Road ‘Redmen’ It’s Time for a Change” which advocates for the change of name and logo of the “Redmen” because it believes “The name Redmen is not an honour to Indigenous people, reducing their history to offensive and archaic symbols.” The Department of Natives Studies at the University of Saskatchewan had this to say about the Redmen in April, 2013. “If schools are serious about fostering safe and inclusive environments for the success of First Nations students, racial stereotypes must be eliminated by the entire Saskatoon Public School system.”
This column is featured in both Prince Albert and Moose Jaw. I’m also not a fan of the Moose Jaw WHL team using the name Warriors with a First Nations head for a logo. I think they should change it also.
I’m not the only person who feels this way. First Nations people have been silenced for generations thanks to policies and laws that continually worked against them. They have begun protesting topics like this one, and these protests will continue, whether I write about them or not.
Here is the opportunity for Bedford Road and the Moose Jaw Warriors to embrace change and move in a new direction by no longer stereotyping, romanticizing or using derogatory terms and logos in reference to First Nations groups.
This is how you honor First Nations people: By treating them with dignity and respect and listening when they object to any cultural appropriation.
First Nations people have been in awe lately, of Ian Campeau, DJ for A Tribe Called Red because he took action against the Nepean Redskins in Ottawa. He filed a human rights complaint against the minor league football team, and the team has finally agreed to change its name and logo at the end of this season.
I understand the financial implications this entails. It is costly to change logos, jerseys, merchandise, websites, etc. But like Campeau, who offered to help offset costs by fundraising for Nepean, I will do the same.
I’m a great fundraiser. I will gladly help Bedford Road Collegiate and Moose Jaw’s WHL team to fundraise, if they are willing to make a change and choose more suitable names and logos. Some will say that it’s not my job to right their wrongs, but I don’t hold grudges and will gladly help anyone who is choosing a new and better path.
There are more teams with such names, I realize. I’ve kept my focus on Saskatchewan, but I hope others will be inspired to take action in their provinces, too.
Now is the time to prompt a new era with First Nations people in this province. Don’t be swayed by pride, prejudice or profit. Be leaders, not resisters.