GUEST COLUMN: The sad irony behind push to ban Indigenous team names

The Sarnia Braves in action at Errol Russell Park. File photo.

 

Ed Gresham

Ed Gresham

So, the Point Edward Blackhawks and Sarnia Braves are under pressure to change their names.

This follows an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal decision regarding the names of minor sports teams in Mississauga.

Sarnia and Point Edward have all but thrown in the towel. The city says it won’t tell anyone what to name their team, but Parks and Recreation Director Rob Harwood has stated, “the city won’t be able to display their logos, their trophies or their signage.”

Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand points to the cost of potential litigation. “I think we’re better off taking steps on our own,” she said.

How did we get here? And is this complaint reasonable?

The driving force behind all this is the Ontario Human Rights Commission, an arms-length government agency whose mandate is to “prevent discrimination through public education and public policy; and look into situations where discriminatory behavior exists.”

A laudable goal, for sure.

But is every Indigenous sports team name discriminatory? Having spent time in Florida I can assure you there is zero movement afoot for Florida State University to change its name from the Seminoles.

The Seminoles fought the U.S. in three separate wars and are the only tribe to have never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government. In short, the Seminoles embody the competitive spirit coaches try to instill in their young charges. The team’s name pays homage to the Seminole people.

Discrimination can take various forms. It can be pervasive and it can be subtle.

But Point Edward’s teams are named after Chief Black Hawk. He was born in 1767, in what is now Illinois. His father was a medicine man, and his first battle came at the tender age of 15. He distinguished himself in battle and rapidly became a “War Chief.”

Following his father’s death, he assumed the role of medicine man. So, at the same time, Black Hawk was a general and a doctor.

Chicago, whose name derives from the Indigenous word “shikaakwa,”uses Black Hawk’s name for its NHL hockey team. A college is named after him. The U.S. Army’s primary attack helicopter is called the Black Hawk. Once again, these examples pay homage to local Indigenous history.

How could the Point Edward Blackhawks possibly be conceived as discriminatory?

The case of the Sarnia Braves is less complex but equally telling. Here’s the dictionary definition of Brave.

Adjective: ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

Noun: a North American Indian warrior

Verb: “endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the very definition of “brave” means Indigenous warrior.

Sadly, a government organization is now pressuring municipalities to change these names because someone, somewhere, claimed they are oppressive.

Yet the names they are seeking to change represent people who dedicated their lives to fighting oppression.

 

Ed Gresham is a retired lawyer who practiced in Sarnia and Point Edward for 25 years. Previously, he flew fighter jets for the U.S. Marines