Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Text Size

No 'honour' in native names

By: Niigaan Sinclair

Winnipeg Free Press

At the end of the 2013 Ottawa amateur football season, the Nepean Redskins chose a brave path. In response to public pressure, club president Steve Dean announced plans to change their logo and name because they were "divisive to our community."

Copied from the NFL's Washington Redskins, Nepean helmets and jerseys feature "Redskins" in crimson red alongside a stoic and decorated head of a Sioux warrior.

Debates over native-themed sports names and logos are heating up. Opponents cry historical racism and disrespect. Proponents, like Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, say they represent tradition and they "honour" indigenous cultures.

These arguments miss a central point. While important to know the context of each native-themed name or logo, how they shape the present is far more important.

In other words, how these names and symbols influence our relationships truly is what matters.

Native-themed mascots are everywhere but sports are where they are most popular. For every Redskins there are Chiefs, Braves, Indians, Warriors, or references to specific groups like Seminoles, Blackhawks, or Eskimos."

They're all echoes. Each feature a Sioux-like warrior head adorned in war paint, a weapon, and laid out in bloody red.

Fans all across North America love these. Just look at the tens of thousands performing war whoops, beating drums, and painting faces on any given Sunday.

Native-themed teams emerged in the early 20th century, just as the United States was rising as a global superstar. The reason Americans were able to do this was solely due to empire-building -- nearly two centuries of land and resource theft from indigenous communities.

The event that most caught the American imagination were the famed Sioux Wars of 1851-1891, which made national heroes of such persons as Gen. George Custer and national enemies of such persons as Crazy Horse.

The culmination of this conflict was the Dec. 29, 1890, Wounded Knee Massacre. Surrounding a village of unarmed families, the U.S. cavalry opened fire, killing everyone. Sioux warriors returned to find a mass grave while soldiers received Medals of Honor.

After this, American pop culture fell in love with the image of the "disappearing Indian" -- a tragic but very romantic vision of a dying civilization receding into the wilderness.

Photographer Edward Curtis made a best-selling career off recasting this image of native Americans, even paying them to dress up and pose.

By far, Curtis's most lucrative images were head shots of solitary, armed, and stoic warriors wearing Sioux-like headdresses and clothing.

America loved to see fierce, armed Indians remade as false, disappearing fantasies. Decapitated. Controlled.

Meanwhile, sports teams needed a name and symbol to unite fan bases and make money. It was no coincidence that football, baseball and hockey are all sports that celebrate struggles over territory and reward invaders for occupation and theft.

The marriage of the Sioux-like warrior name and image to sports was complete, celebrating and re-telling American violence against indigenous communities every time one appears on sports highlights.

Mind you, sports teams didn't choose the image of mass graves of Sioux -- the true vision of American relationships with indigenous peoples -- but the lie of a victory over Indians.

This is the image America builds its identity upon. Canada too. Look at the Nepean Redskins.

It's tough to change abusive relationships.

In a May 2013 interview with USA Today, Snyder was asked about criticisms surrounding the Redskins name and logo.

"We'll never change the name," he responded. "It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps."

And so the celebration of land theft, violence against indigenous communities and self-delusional nation-building continues every Sunday, dividing us all.

Until a brave choice is made to turn the channel.

Niigaan Sinclair is an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba, award-winning Anishinaabe editor and writer, and an avid sports fan.

Whatever Trevor

Dis is Trevor.

Education & Training

Blast from the past: FP archive

When is Consultation, Consultation?

Ovide Mercredi

National Chief – AFN

During a Treaty Roundtable meeting of the Alberta Chiefs, I took note of a federal government document outlining their strategy to define and ultimately impose their own form of self-government. Read more...

Letting go of residential schools

by Gilbert Oskaboose, Nov 1993 First Perspective

There is a lot of "unfinished business" in Indian Country. Garbage that we as a people have never really dealt with. Chief among them is the whole issue of those infamous residential schools and their impact on people. Read more...


obidiah picture

ANALYSIS - Bill Gallagher

gallagher picture

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit

Under the Northern Sky by Xavier Kataquapit


Regional Media Officer– Temp (Until Nov 2015) –F/T Position

Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition / NDP Research Office

Location:131 Queen Street, Suite 10-02, Ottawa, ON


Communicate regularly with regional media outlets (community newspapers, radio stations, student media, ethnic media, etc.) to propose ideas for interviews and opinion content Read more...

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Aboriginal Workforce Report

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce released a report that highlights initiatives to improve the workforce participation of Aboriginal peoples. 

Opportunity Found: Improving the Participation of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s Workforce (December 2013)  

click image to download report

Tue Sep 23 @ 3:00PM - 04:15PM
FNHMA National Conference 2014
Sun Oct 05 @ 9:00AM - 05:00PM
INIHKD & Manitoba NEAHR Conference 2014


September 2014
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 1 2 3 4

Current Video

RIP Percy Tuesday


Thanks to Althea Guiboche for allowing The First Perspective to share her video taken at the Manitowapow book launch at McNally Robinson. 

Percey sings Freddy Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and people join in to harmonize. 

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO): The Washington Redskins