Manitoba

First Nations leaders support Morden mayor's call for end to derogatory hockey team name

A group that represents First Nations in southern Manitoba is voicing support for a rural mayor who wants a hockey team in his city to ditch its racist team name, as similar discussions spread throughout the province and beyond.

Neepawa junior team also revisiting issue of team name as NFL, CFL squads plan to drop racist monikers

The Southern Chiefs' Organization met with Morden Mayor Brandon Burley, centre, on Friday to discuss his efforts to have a local hockey team change its controversial name. With Burley from left: Keeseekoowenin Ojibway First Nation Chief Norman Bone, Hollow Water First Nation Chief Larry Barker, SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels and Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson. (Submitted by SCO)

A group that represents First Nations in southern Manitoba is voicing support for a rural mayor who is calling on a hockey team in his city to ditch its racist team name, as similar discussions spread throughout different sports in the province and beyond.

Last week, Morden Mayor Brandon Burley resurfaced calls for a local senior hockey team to drop its name, which is considered a slur toward Indigenous peoples.

The Southern Chiefs' Organization's executive committee met with Burley on Friday to support his push.

"This is an important step towards addressing racism," SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a statement.

"There are many First Nations that start their own teams, and even leagues, because of racism in sport. Those names and logos dehumanize and denigrate, and so we welcome this effort by Mayor Burley."

The general manager for the hockey team told CBC News earlier this week it is having internal discussions and will announce soon what it plans to do.

'Do the right thing'

Past efforts to get the southern Manitoba city team to change have failed.

Burley said he is committed to ensuring this time that doesn't happen.

Last week, Morden's mayor said the name of the community's senior hockey club is offensive and urged the club to drop its moniker. (Morden Hockey Team/Facebook)

SCO's vote of support comes on the same day that another team in western Manitoba said it, too, will revisit the topic of rebranding for similar reasons.

The Neepawa Natives board of directors will meet Tuesday to discuss what to do about its name, said Ken Pearson, head coach and general manager of the team.

"We're going to do the right thing, obviously. You just don't want to make a knee-jerk reaction to what's going on" Pearson told Up to Speed host Ismaila Alfa.

Pearson was alluding to decisions by a series of high-profile sports teams to get rid of controversial or racist names.

A Morden baseball team decided last week it will retire its name.

Washington's NFL team announced Monday it will lose its name due to ongoing calls for change. It has the same name as the Morden hockey team, and a logo with racist connotations toward Indigenous people.

Protesters rally outside an NFL stadium in 2019 to speak out about the name of the Washington football club. (Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Days later, TSN and Postmedia reported that Edmonton's CFL team will change its name, though on Friday the club refused to confirm those reports. Critics say the name is a derogatory colonial-era term for Inuit.

Similar calls targeting the Chicago Blackhawks over the years resulted in the team doubling down this month.

It said it won't change its name or logo, which the administration says honour the legacy of a historical Native American. That form of justification has been characterized as false praise.

The Neepawa and Morden hockey teams have logos nearly identical to that of the Blackhawks, though Neepawa also has a more recent version of its jersey that instead features an "N."

The reluctance to change over the years prompted Hockey Manitoba to discuss what to do this week.

Its board met and members plan to vote on an in-house bylaw change in January that could enable the organization to force teams to change racist or stereotypical names.

There was unanimous support for such a change among board members at the meeting, according to the head of Hockey Manitoba.

'Get left behind'

Pearson just became coach of the Neepawa team last year, but he was born and raised in the town and played for the junior hockey team in the late 1980s, when it was formed.

Like Pearson, many have fond memories of the team. He knows the community well and said he believes not everyone would be happy about renaming.

"I think there will be some disappointment if the name is changed," he said.

"But at the same time, I do understand the way things are headed in today's world, and like everything else, you keep up with the times and move on or you get left behind."

Morden's mayor agrees with that sentiment.

"I'm committed to moving our community forward in an equitable fashion towards reconciliation, understanding that what we do today will matter to future generations," Burley said in a statement.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

now