Couple calls on Ontario government to ban Indigenous logos, mascots in schools

Lynne Courchene of Ottawa has gone to the Ontario Human Rights tribunal to force schools to ban Indigenous-themed sports logos, mascots and team names.

Ministry of Education asking for human rights complaint be thrown out, says dress codes set by school boards

The logo of the Washington Redskins, like that of the Chicago Blackhawks, has been used by both minor league and high school teams in Canada. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Lynne Courchene remembers the time she and her family were in an Ottawa-area toy store when members of the Copper Cliff minor hockey team walked in.

"An entire team came in that had Redmen jerseys on with the [Chicago] Blackhawks logo. Nobody in the store seemed to even bat an eyelash that people were actually in wearing these jerseys. It didn't occur that it was racist or wrong in any sort of way," she said.

Courchene, a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba who has lived most of her life in Ottawa, said she and her husband initially reached out to the Sudbury, Ont. team about changing its name and also petitioned the team's corporate sponsors.

It didn't occur that it was racist or wrong in any sort of way.- Lynne Courchene

"After not receiving any kind of positive response from any of these parties, at that point it was pure frustration, that brought us to the point that we're like, 'OK, nobody is going to take this seriously, so we're going to have to bring this to the next level,'" she said. 

They weren't the first people to complain to the Copper Cliff minor hockey association. But Courchene's complaint could be far-reaching.

Though the Sudbury-area hockey team isn't affiliated with a school, the couple went to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, where they've asked for the provincial ministry of education to force its school boards to take action. 

"We are asking that they ban all offensive First Nations logos and names from all Ontario schools as the effects of these logos/names are harmful to our children. This also includes a total ban of all clothing/accessories that bear these logos," Courchene wrote on Facebook.

The Ministry of Education is asking that the complaint be thrown out, because the ministry claims dress codes are set and enforced by its school boards, not the ministry.

Education minister responds

Ontario's Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said in a written statement to CBC News she expects school boards to work with Indigenous partners to review school team names, logos, and mascots.

"Offensive names, logos or mascots have no place in schools and if potentially offensive names are identified, boards should begin and/or continue discussions with Indigenous students and communities to determine the appropriate steps forward to ensure safe and inclusive schools," Hunter said. 

"As decisions around school themes, logos and mascots are the responsibility of local school boards who are in the best position to engage and collaborate with school and Indigenous partners in their local communities, we expect boards to take measures to deepen the understanding of the negative impact that stereotypes can have for individuals, staff and communities, and above all address and review any offensive team name logo and mascot."

Mediation set for Sept. 6

Courchene said the ministry shouldn't leave the decision to school boards, and she wonders why it has imposed its will on schools boards in other equality issues.

"[The ministry] used its authority to push gay-straight alliances within the Catholic school boards. I'm happy for them. That's great. The only thing we're hoping for is equal treatment," she said. 

Courchene and her husband are scheduled to participate in a Sept. 6 mediation session with the ministry in Toronto.

In the Ottawa Valley, there have been a few instances where teams have changed their names after similar complaints.

Arnprior District High School, despite some resistance in the community, dropped the Redmen name in favour of Rapids in 2017. Though not affiliated with a school, the youth football team from the Ottawa neighbourhood of Nepean also changed its name from the Redskins to the Eagles in 2014.