Morden Redskins reignite debate over offensive team names

Heather Francis is a city councillor in Morden, Manitoba. In early October she requested city council open a discussion with a local hockey team called the Morden Redskins with the goal of convincing them to change their name.
A Morden city councillor will ask the Morden Redskins to change their name, after her motion asking city council to petition for the change failed earlier this month. (Morden Hockey Team/Facebook)

Another call to change a sports team's name was raised in a small, southern Manitoba city this week. 

Heather Francis is a city councillor in Morden. In early October, she requested city council open a discussion with a local hockey team called the Morden Redskins.

The goal? To convince them to change the name. 

In a letter to her fellow councillors, Francis explained why she thought it was important. 

The Chicago Blackhawks' logo has also been controversial. Ojibwe artist Michael Ivall designed this image as an alternative for the team in 2008. It was sold to the Maplesoft Hawks hockey club in Ottawa. (courtesy Maplesoft Hawks)
"If you look up in any of the major dictionaries, the redskins term, like Merriam-Webster calls it 'usually offensive'. Cambridge calls it 'offensive and dated' and Oxford is the same. It's definitely a derogatory term," she said.

"It's not something that provokes any good images."

Francis said she doesn't believe the name was meant to be offensive but that times have changed and so should the name. Ultimately, Morden city council voted five to two to stay out of the issue. 

Meanwhile, the hockey club's president, Brent Meleck says there are no plans to change the name and adds that as a First Nations person, he doesn't find the name offensive.

Harmful to children

But Tara Houska of NotYourMascots.org, a Washington based group, countered that it goes beyond who is personally offended by a team's name. She said numerous studies have shown that Native American mascots are harmful to the self-esteem of Native American children.

"They indoctrinate stereotypes," she said. "They perpetuate this idea of Native Americans being these savage people. So once you know it harms the self-esteem of native youth, it doesn't matter what you think personally. You know it's hurting children and so that's what we really should be concerned about."

In Washington, Houska added, there has been an ongoing battle with the Washington NFL team to change their name and their logo, a profile of Native American head.

"It used to be a term for the bounty on Native American scalps," Houska said. "That's what the history comes from."

History of violence

This shirt, a satirical poke at the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo mascot, caused controversy when A Tribe Called Red's DJ NDN wore it in promotional photos. (Courtesy Shelf Life Clothing)
It's a sentiment echoed by author and indigenous leader, Wab Kinew. Kinew doesn't think Morden's team name is acceptable, and said changing it is not about the team or even individuals, it's about those with no voice in the debate.

"This not about someone in a position of power like the president of a hockey team or even somebody such as myself," he explained, stressing that the term is a racist one because it judges people based on the colour of their skin.

'This is about protecting people who are less powerful and more vulnerable, like little kids on the school playground. What are the chances that they are going to be called the r-word and they're going to feel good about it? Slim to none.'- Wab Kinew

"If they're ever called this r-word then it's going to be offensive, derogatory and it's going to be to demean them," Kinew said.

He added that as a society, we should do what we can to ensure no one is called such names, beginning by taking them out of usage in the public sphere. 

"I would hope that [the Morden team] reconsider and that they get in line with what's happened in other parts of the country," Kinew said. "Which is that people have stopped using this term, and get on the right side of history."