Local sports teams under pressure to change names

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

Cathy Dobson

Two longstanding local sports teams are under pressure to change their names because they could be considered racially insensitive, local officials say.

The mayors of Sarnia and Point Edward have received letters from the Ontario Human Rights Commission asking all provincial municipalities for a policy review of Indigenous team names and logos displayed in municipal facilities.

That includes the Sarnia Braves baseball team and Point Edward Blackhawks hockey teams.

Someone who is not offended by either example is Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Chris Plain.

Logo of the Point Edward Minor Athletic Association.

“I come from a sports family and we’ve never given the names much thought,” said Plain. “My son has played for the Sarnia Braves, he’s worn the uniform and had a great experience.

“No one is intending to offend anyone and no one is offended,” the chief said.

But Plain stressed it’s not up to him to decide whether the two teams keep their names. And while he doesn’t consider it a pressing issue, he said he would consult band council, elders and the wider Aamjiwnaang community to see if they agree.

The commission request follows a human rights complaint filed against Mississauga over city sponsorship of five minor league hockey clubs, including the Mississauga Chiefs and Mississauga Braves.

Before the Human Rights Tribunal ruled on the case, several of the teams voluntarily changed their names, and the municipality agreed to work with sports groups and Indigenous leaders to develop a policy that could prohibit the display of any Indigenous-themed logos in municipal facilities.

Logo of the Sarnia Braves Minor Baseball Association.

Sarnia parks and recreation director Rob Harwood said he is closely monitoring what Mississauga does and will recommend Sarnia adopt a similar policy.

“The City of Sarnia won’t tell anyone what they can name their team,” said Harwood. “But I expect the city won’t be able to display their logos, their trophies or their signage.”

The commission has asked for municipal consultation with local First Nations. Harwood had his first meeting with Chief Plain a few weeks ago.

“This is a much bigger (issue) than the local community,” Harwood said.

A new policy isn’t expected until this fall, at the earliest.

“I hope to convince the Braves it’s time to rebrand,” Harwood said. “I do think this will potentially end with the teams ultimately changing their names. I’m hoping it can be a positive experience.”

Point Edward Mayor Bev Hand said she predicted two years ago attitudes about stereotypes and discrimination could force a change of the Blackhawk name, which the village has used for at least 50 years.

“I understand there’s history and emotion connected to the Blackhawks but I think people understand we live in a different world where you have to be more thoughtful,” Hand said.

She’s working with Sarnia on the issue and has spoken with officials in Mississauga.

“The settlement they got said the old logos had to go. It cost them a lot of money to go through the litigation. I think we’re better off taking steps on our own,” she said.

“We don’t want to be a community with a black mark. At the same time, I don’t want council to impose a decision on our minor (teams).”

The president of the Point Edward Minor Athletic Association said the issue change came up at this year’s annual general meeting.

“I think locally folks realize the Braves and Blackhawks logos are steeped in tradition, history and respect,” Liz Page said.

“However, we can’t assume everyone feels the same way.”

Sportsmanship is conveyed in many ways, including the logo on a jacket or jersey, Page added.

“We want to make sure that our players and families represent our village and association in a manner consistent with our inclusive, respectful values.”

Page said as far as she knows no one has complained about the Blackhawks name or logo, which mirrors that of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks.

“In fact, Planet Stitch (located in Aamjiwnaang) supplies our hockey jerseys,” she said.

Alvinston’s minor baseball team voluntarily changed its name from the Indians to the Riverhawks in 2016.

“That’s when I started to think we would have to look at it too,” Hand said.