Follow up to the Chief Louie conversation…
Here are a few excerpts from a forthcoming book by Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band. He shared this with us following a very productive ZOOM Conference we held. These thoughts are primarily about Native Sports Logos & Life and they relate to a motto that he heartily endorses Get high on sports not drugs (Motto, Inchelium Native youth camp). I encourage you to read it and reflect…He’s been chief most of his life; he represents his people.
(in Chief Louie’s words…)
Just before Christmas 2020, the Cleveland Indians announced they would drop the Indians part of their name and begin the process of coming up with a new branding for their baseball team. Earlier in the year, it had been the Washington Redskins announcing they would, for the time being, be called just the Washington Football Team with no reference to the name players and fans once embraced with passion.
When I hear that some Natives are against professional sports teams using Native logos or names, that such use is disrespectful and offensive, I disagree with a passion — and I have lots of evidence to back this up. Few have been on more Indian reserves and reservations than I have. Being a dedicated sports fan, I pay attention to the Native sports culture. I have been to hundreds of Native sports tournaments and games. I notice when someone is wearing sports logos. I especially notice when someone is wearing a Native sports logo or has one in their home or office.
A person competitive in sports is usually also competitive in life. Patrick Murphy, the Alabama Crimson Tide softball coach, says, Un-coachable kids become unemployable adults. Let your kid get used to someone being tough on them. It’s life — get over it. Most of my lifelong inner circle of close friends come from sports. Nothing matches the camaraderie and heartfelt highs and lows that sports competition leaves etched in the hearts and minds of players, coaches and fans.
It’s the same for Natives who live and breathe the Native rodeo culture. They always notice when someone is wearing cowboy boots or a cowboy hat. And they can quickly pick out the phony “urban cowboys.” As a one-time bull rider myself, I always pay extra attention to those wearing a cowboy hat. A cowboy hat is a very important symbol to those in the rodeo culture — something most people wouldn’t understand. A motorcycle leather vest is not just another vest. A motorcycle vest and the patches that riders attach to their vest is a very important part of the biker culture — and I’m not talking about motorcycle gangs; I’m talking about the thousands of passionate individual riders like myself. People who are serious motorcycle riders will know exactly what I mean.
Native names are not the only monikers used in society. There’s the Fighting Irish college teams. The Scottish Highlanders regiment in the Canadian army doesn’t mean all the soldiers in that regiment are Scottish. I am sure most Irish and the Scott’s are proud of this use of their ethnicity.
People who are obsessed with political correctness won’t get this, but I continue to see Rez kids and adults wearing the Cleveland Indians logo. They don’t wear it because they are baseball fans. They don’t wear it because they are Cleveland Indian fans. They wear those caps because it’s a Native logo, and they like it! The first question I have for Natives who are upset about the use of Native names and images in sports is, are they even real sports fans? If they were real sports fans, they would realize a sports logo is a very serious emblem and is one of the highest honours in sports. It symbolizes your team and is the face and image of your team. In sports, your team logo and name becomes part of your family, which is something non-sports fans would not understand. Your team and that jersey and name is of utmost importance and pride.
I wonder how many of those Natives who oppose the use of the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Redskins, etc. even spend real time on their Rez and take notice of how many of their people wear those logos? Are they urban Indian academics being caught up in campus or Facebook political correctness? I notice Redskins, Blackhawks and Cleveland Indian ball caps on reserves and reservations all over Indian Country. Yes, even at Pow Wows I see those sports logos. Native craft venders will be there selling beaded Redskins logos.
Obviously, Natives don’t all agree on every issue. Like every race, Natives have different positions on most every issue. The public and team owners should realize that, yes, there are some Natives against the use of Native logos and names. They should also know that the media loves to play on conflict. The fact is, there are also a lot of Natives who proudly wear and support those logos every day.
As a lifelong sports fan and former player of several sports, I know what a name and logo means to a team. It’s important to the fans and especially to the players. It is, in my opinion, respect and honour at its highest level. Some Natives say the Washington Redskins name is offensive. Most Rezskins are not thin-skinned and don’t take offence. On the Rez we have far more negative and pressing economic and social, cultural issues to deal with than to listen to those who make the issue of Native sports logos and names an ongoing priority. On the over 300 Indian reserves and reservations I have been on, not once has a Rez Indian brought up the so called serious issue of Native sports names and logos.
I side with the Skins and have ever since I was a kid. I will continue to support and wear the Blackhawks, Redskins and Cleveland Indian logos. The first hockey jersey I bought back in 1976, when as a 16 year old I started playing hockey, was a Chicago Blackhawks practice jersey, the Indian head on the front and my personal sports number, #13 on the back. That Chicago Blackhawks jersey, with its Indian head logo, is one of my prized sports jerseys. I am not even a Blackhawks fan — Habs all the way! — but that Indian head to me is one of the very best logos in all of professional sports. To me and many First Nations people we take that as a sign of RESPECT. For Natives, how can that be anything other than something in which to take pride? No way is that degrading or embarrassing!
The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), an organization that, like many reserves, lives off government funding, recently sent out a notice: “CBC sports will stop the use of Indigenous names in reference to teams and symbols.” What a worthless gesture. Come on CBC — you want to help First Nation people, then report every day on the ongoing injustices of land claims, water quality and treaty issues. Why not call out the churches for their century-plus sexual abuses in Indian residential and boarding schools? Or is that too close to the Canadian and American heartbeat?
I was recently sent an email from a senior men’s hockey team a few hours east of Osoyoos. The players were getting beat up on social media for using the name Warriors and wearing the Blackhawks logo. I told them, “You are in my traditional Okanagan /Sylix territory, and as far as I am concerned keep on wearing that proud Native logo. Tell those overly-sensitive pilgrims to find a more important cause to protest. Tell them, ‘Why not change the imperial/colonial white settler names of all the mountains, rivers and creeks back to Native names?’ Especially names on Rez’s after racist Indian agents and forts.
In 2020 the Black Lives Matter demonstrations are happening all over the United States and Canada — which is long overdue. It’s great to see players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthems. Taking a knee does not mean you disrespect the flag or are not patriotic. Some people purposely misinterpret things for their own political purposes: just like wearing and using Native sports logos and names is being racist or insensitive to Native people.
The Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League recently bowed to politically-correct pressures and decided to drop the familiar Eskimo, as it is a term no longer used to describe the Inuk of the Canadian Arctic. Jordin Tootoo, the first Inuk to make it to the NEL, responded brilliantly:
…My father’s generation connects [with] this term to describe who they are. Ile would refer to himself as an Eskimo. My generation refers to itself as Inuk. What is important to me is that people understand this …So, this makes me ask the question, does the term Eskimo for the Edmonton franchise bring back feelings of oppression for the Inuk people? For me, it does not. That is not a reason to keep the name. There could be others for whom it does create those feelings. I encourage the franchise to explain why they chose the name Eskimos in the first place. Was it racially charged, or, was it because of admiration for the ability of the Eskimos to thrive in cold climates, for their mental and physical toughness and for their resilience? My point is that context really does matter…
Would you rather see our people wearing logos and names that have no Native connection at all? Not likely. One wise Elder from the States told me; Will the general public remember us Native people more if Native sports logos go away? He shook his head and said Images — art — remind people.
Check out the Indian Motorcycle name and logo. Is that racist or degrading? Heck, no! I have seen Native Vietnam combat vets and Elders trade in their beloved Harleys for an Indian motorcycle. Why would a Native biker who has ridden a Harley for 20 years or more switch to an Indian motorcycle? I know why. It’s so simple. It’s because of the name and logo! I have even seen many First Nation bikers have the Indian motorcycle name and logo tattooed on their arm.
Native sports logos brings people together who would otherwise never talk. There is a brotherhood around sports and motorcycle logos. I have many times gone up and talked to strangers I see wearing Blackhawks, Redskins jerseys or caps. The sports name and logo connection goes a long ways. If I see a Habs or Native (logo) jersey stuck on the side of the road, I’m stopping to help out my fellow sports fan (maybe not a Leafs jersey — Aye!).
I love it that one of my Council’s daughters who is now going to hockey school wears her Chicago Blackhawks cap proudly every day to the rink. One social media petition to get rid of the Blackhawks logo quoted the American Psychological Association calling for Immediate retirement of American Indian symbols of all American Indian symbols… harmful effects of racial stereotyping and development of self esteem of American Indian young people. Sometimes the more education you have the further removed you are from real life Rez grassroots. The Rez grassroots kids I see wearing Native sports logos are not lacking in self esteem.
I recently spoke with a representative from the Chicago Blackhawks and that professional team has this statement on the logo controversy:
The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois ‘ Sac & Fax Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public…. We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation.
Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people…
I support the Chicago Blackhawks organization — they are on the right track of real reconciliation and understanding because following or playing a sport as research has proven breaks down racism and are an important part of a healthy lifestyle. I further fully understand the spinoff benefits of Native sports logos when the Blackhawks organization writes that, The continued use of Native logos should be leveraged to create opportunity, create avenues of commerce and business, pathways for education and additionally create awareness of Native issues and concerns.
In my office, I proudly display a Washington Redskins helmet signed by Joe Theismann. On my Harley, I proudly have a Redskin logo. Yeah, I am a Redskin nothing racist about it.
The issue of Native names and Native logos being used in sports came up in early 2020 with the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl. I love that name and logo. I love the chanting and I love the tomahawk chop that the fans do to encourage their team. Yes, some things are over the line, and I disagree with the wearing of war paint or Chiefs sacred feathered bonnets. I support those things being banned. Football is all about bravery and competition at its highest level. No rougher, tougher team sport than football. Yeah, I got and wear a Chiefs cap. Why not? I am a Chief!