By Joel Balsam
When will society move on from branding sports teams with weird outdated colonial imagery? Knowing that it’s a bad idea to name your athletic club after a race of people who have been forced into oppressive residential schools and then into a sterilization program as recently as 42 years ago is not really a progressive concept. But some people just don’t seem to get it.
I grew up in Nepean in the west-end of Ottawa and played hockey for the Nepean Chiefs, our logo was a black chief with a black and red diamond-shaped headdress. At the time I didn’t think much about it. We kicked ass (especially with me in net) but that probably had nothing to do with our name or logo, in the end it was a just minor hockey team and we could have been the Bears or Tigers or, I don't know, some scary other animal.
In August 2012, when Ian Campeau aka Deejay NDN (say it out loud) of the Ottawa DJ all-First Nations group A Tribe Called Red started a social media campaign against the Nepean Redskins football team to get them to change their stupidly racist name, my first instinct was: “Duh, change that stupid name.” Unfortunately, many in the rest of my city didn't agree as radio hosts, newspaper columnists, and people I knew from high school were all: “If the Nepean Redskins name is racist, everything is racist!” It's a kids’ recreational team, not even a “historically relevant” team like the Washington Redskins, people.
Over a year later, after Campeau officially filed a human rights complaint, the Nepean football team caved and changed their name to the Eagles. Meanwhile, a basketball team in the city named themselves the Tomahawks. They eventually settled on “The Hawks,” but come on, get it together Ottawa!
Anyway, some people in Ottawa have not let this go. Some have continued to harass Campeau on social media including one guy who said he would go to his house wearing a head dress and do the tomahawk chop in front of him. Campeau went to the police about that and had to go again this past weekend when someone named “Corey” from rural Ottawa threatened him on Facebook. I spoke with Deejay NDN in Ottawa about what happened and his thoughts on racially charged sports teams.
VICE: Can you explain how these threats have been delivered?
Ian Campeau: I was getting ridiculous unsolicited hateful messages on my personal Facebook and when I replied, the reply was like mad racist and “whatever, wagon burner,” so, I contacted my lawyer because there's stipulations in the agreement that we have with the Nepean football team and if this guy is affiliated with the team then that reflects poorly on the agreement that we have. So, I called my lawyer and she was like: “You need to report that as a hate crime, because it clearly is, so I went to the police.”
Was this “Corey” affiliated with the Redskins?
That hasn't been determined, but this was a just in case sort of thing.
Are the police going to be taking any action to make sure this doesn't escalate any further?
They asked what kind of outcome I would like to see, and I said that I would like for this guy to be contacted by the police and basically be told to smarten up. It's amazing when you send a message on Facebook to somebody you don't know and you don't have the settings put the way you want, you are putting where you sent the message from. So, all three of his messages were from the same address in this rural place, so I guess that's where he's from.
And that's around Ottawa?
What’s up with Ottawa? I grew up playing with the Nepean Chiefs and we also have the Nepean Redskins.
I don't know I don't think it’s Ottawa, I think it’s society in general. Because I grew up here, because you grew up here, we see it happen more often. It's a turning point in society and we're all starting to wake up and see how First Nations are being treated differently and how their images are used as opposed to any other race in North America.
Do you think we've actually hit that turning point?
Yeah, I think so. With Facebook and Twitter we are able to confront a lot of the racism that was typically hidden away. There are a lot of different factors that are happening right now. We're the first generation not be forced into residential schools. So, there's no real surprise that Idle No More or even A Tribe Called Red are happening, because again, we're the first generation that wasn't forced into residential schools. There's this consciousness that is happening right and we're all waking up and confronting this racism. And before we were put on the reserves and we weren't really allowed to leave and this was just 40 or 50 years ago. Now that we're allowed, we're growing and becoming doctors and lawyers. 50 years ago it was illegal to even consult with a lawyer if you were First Nations. So, there are all these leaps and strides that are happening right now and this is our civil rights movement. That's exactly what's happening.
But despite all these things there are still dumb people who go out dressed up like First Nations at your shows in “red face” as you guys called it.
These sort of things have to happen in order for a civil rights movement to happen. We have to take control of our own image and say: “You can't dress like that, that's our image.” And, “You are not allowed to use these words, you are not allowed to say that.” It's going to be a lot of confrontation because it hasn't happened before and because we were forced on reserves, which are out of walking distance of any town or any city, on purpose. The struggle is different now. Before we were out of sight and out of mind, and now with social media there is a level playing field where we are able to confront this racism and discuss problems and even publicly shame people that come out mad racist by outing them on Facebook or Twitter; so there are repercussions for calling me a wagon burner in a private message.
Would getting rid of racist names of major sports teams like the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians make a big difference?
Absolutely. There are no other races being exploited like this for a sports team. Other people argue that you’ve got the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Boston Celtics, but those are all cultures; they’re not races. If you identify with any of those your race is Caucasian. And the biggest difference of all, between those and the monikers of Native teams, are that those teams were made by people who identified with that culture. So, the Fighting Irish is named by an Irish priest, the Celtics' owner was Irish, the Minnesota Vikings' owner was of Scandinavian descent, so that's the major difference. My hockey team on my reserve was called the Warriors with feathers and stuff and I'm totally cool with that, because they’re First Nations and they are allowed to use that.