Over the last several years a number of different sports teams using stereotypical imagery of Indigenous people as their logos and mascots have been generating a lot of negative media attention.
The NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks have been under the spotlight in the past few years. Although the team itself wasn’t named directly after Indigenous warrior Black Hawk, the name came from team founder Frederic McLaughlin to honour his battalion from World War One, which was nicknamed ‘Black Hawk’. Most disturbing however is their team logo, which has often been described as the ‘cigar store Indian’: the red faced ‘warrior’ decked out in war paint and feathers in his hair.
Black Hawk was a great warrior of the Sauk Tribe in what is now known as America. Although he was not a hereditary chief, he gained his status by leading war parties, fighting mostly against encroaching European settlers.
The Chicago Blackhawks are not the only sports team to inherit the ‘Blackhawk’ name and the stereotypical image of an Indigenous ‘warrior’. The Thorold Blackhawks have been pushed into the spotlight lately, not so much because of the name itself, but because of a logo which many Indigenous people find offensive and derogatory.
Mitch Baird, of the Mohawk nation and Program Development Coordinator with the Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative and also sits on the Board of Directors at the Niagara Regional Native Centre. Baird has been making media headlines in Thorold in the past few months. Last October, Baird took it upon himself to speak out publicly against the offensive Thorold Blackhawks logo. Using social media, Baird garnered a lot of support from the Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous population.
Baird also contacted Thorold City Mayor, Ted Luciani,as well as Thorold Blackhawks owners to express his concerns. A meeting was held in late November in which those present included Baird, Mayor Luciani, and Blackhawk owners Tony Gigliotti and Ralph Sacco.
Baird educated those present on the harmful psychological effects of sports mascots that use negative imagery of Indigenous peoples and explained the reasons why Indigenous people find this logo offensive. Baird then requested the logo be changed and suggested that,“it could be phased out within the next couple of years”, something Mayor Luciani fully supports.
Owners for the Thorold Blackhawks argued they did not find the ‘caricature’ demeaning or disrespectful and offered a few suggestions of their own. One suggestion directed to Baird was to, “do those ceremonies that you guys do”, at future venues where Baird would be allowed to tell the spectators the, “story of your ancestors.” Baird was then told to “get over it”by one of the owners of the Thorold Blackhawks.
Although the meeting was facilitated by Mayor Luciani, he explained that, “the city of Thorold has no jurisdiction over the caricature issue itself since it is not a formal council issue.” However, Mayor Luciani stated, “if Thorold Blackhawks owners continue to refuse to change their team caricature, it will eventually make its way into council chambers.” Mayor Luciani fully supports Baird’s campaign to change the caricature of the Thorold Blackhawks. Even though a deal wasn’t reached at the meeting, all parties agreed to come back to the table at a date which has yet to be set. Thorold Blackhawk owners Tony Gigliotti and Ralph Sacco were contacted for this story but they did not return the Two Row Times calls.
Baird explained two main reasons that motivated him to speak out against the Thorold Blackhawks logo. “The first is thelocal angle which ismedia attention over negative imagery of indigenous people in relation to sports teams and mascots in Ontario.” Baird cited Ian Campeau who is Anishinabe, as his main influence. Campeau filed an Ontario Human Rights complaint against the junior football team, Napean Redskins, who quickly changed their name and logo. Baird’s second influence was the Oneida Nation and how they spoke out against the offensiveness of the Washington Redskins name and mascot.
Baird strongly feels that,“it is hard for Indigenous people to be a positive part of the overall community when so much negative stereotyping is going on towards Indigenous people, such as racist and insulting sports team names, logos, and mascots. And when members of the non-Indigenous community say things like, ‘Get over it’, it definitely does not help the situation.”
Also supporting a caricature change of the Thorold Blackhawks are Ashley Lamothe and Dawn Zinga who both represent the Aboriginal Education Council at Brock University. In a joint statement to Thorold City Council, they stated, “In light that many Brock University students reside in Thorold during their studies, including those of (Indigenous) descent, we feel it would be for the betterment of the community for the logo to be changed to something less offensive.”
Baird also feels that,“in order for usto be a part of the overall community, people have to have a positive perception of what it means to be an Indigenous person in today’s society, ie. Sports teams, logos and mascots have to be culturally appropriate.” Baird hopes that this strive for change is just a small step in changing the negative perceptions and attitudes of Indigenous people by members of society and after Thorold Blackhawks change their logo, hopefully other teams in similar circumstances will take it upon themselves to follow suit.