Don't think the Cleveland baseball team name is offensive? How about the Cleveland Turkeys?
'It shouldn't be that we as Indigenous people have to point out and educate the Western European man'
A day after an Ontario judge dismissed a bid to ban the use of the Cleveland Indians' name and logo in Toronto, one Indigenous arts expert wants the team to consider another name altogether: the Cleveland Turkeys.
Duke Redbird, a consultant on Indigenous art and culture for the Toronto District School Board says his irreverent, tongue-in-cheek suggestion provokes exactly the kind of offence in fans loyal to the Cleveland team that Indigenous people feel when they find themselves turned into mascots.
"[In Toronto] we call ourselves the Blue Jays and everyone is happy with that… Using a bird makes perfect sense, so why can't we just name the Cleveland Indians the Cleveland Turkeys and see how they would feel?"
"It's the same thing that we feel when they call it the Cleveland Indians," Redbird told CBC News on Tuesday. "I don't think that the Cleveland fans would like to have their team called the Turkeys any more than we want to have a team named after Indigenous people."
- Ontario judge dismisses application for ban on Cleveland Indians name, logo in Toronto
Redbird's comments come one day after Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas McEwen ruled against a legal challenge brought forward by Douglas Cardinal. The architect and Indigenous activist argued the team's logo, a toothy cartoon man with red skin and a feather in his headband, amounted to nothing less than racial discrimination.
Problematic names go far beyond sports teams
Cardinal, who is of Blackfoot descent, called for a ban on the use of the Cleveland team's name and logo in Ontario by Major League Baseball and Rogers Communications, which owns the Rogers Centre and the Toronto Blue Jays, and broadcasts Blue Jays games.
"When we name anything it has built into the name a certain nuance and the word turkey has a particular nuance, even though we celebrate it at Thanksgiving and Christmas time," Redbird said.
These racist ideas are part of the system of the Canadian culture. It's been there forever.- Duke Redbird
It's an issue that he and others fighting against the use of such names say goes beyond just sports teams.
The examples abound, he says.
"The Jeep Cherokee has a truck named after a whole nation, the Tecumseh engine, where Tecumseh, a famous native statesman now has his name on a small engine, the Pontiac Thunderbird car… the list goes on."
The appropriation of Indigenous images, names and culture is sometimes easy to miss because Indigenous people have been marginalized in Canada for so long, Redbird says. He points out that if a company wanted to include a sports figure in one of its commercials or in its marketing, that person would be paid.
"We've been selling all kinds of products for years and years with Indigenous logos but we don't get one cent in royalties of that, even though they use us," Redbird said.
Racist ideas part of Canadian culture, Redbird says
"These racist ideas are part of the system of the Canadian culture. It's been there forever."
He's far from alone.
On Tuesday, a Mississauga hockey dad launched a human rights complaint against the city over its sponsorship of five minor hockey clubs — including the Mississauga Chiefs and the Mississauga Braves — which he considers culturally insensitive.
Since the application was filed, two of the five teams in question have voluntarily changed their names.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario will hear his case on Nov. 21.
Redbird argues Indigenous people shouldn't have to take actions like that to keep their identities from being turned into mascots.
"It shouldn't be that we as Indigenous people have to point out and educate the Western European man for something that he should know — without our constantly re-educating them."
With files from Dwight Drummond, Owen Leitch