By Jeremy Nolais
Plans to rebrand a Calgary high school’s aboriginal-themed sports team appear to have divided the very group officials say they’re trying to respect.
Elder Clarence Wolf Leg met with members of Western Canada High School’s social justice club in 2004 during a review of the Redmen athletics name and logo. He and fellow First Nations members engaged at the time deemed the name appropriate as long as it was being used respectfully and only requested minor changes to the school logo, which features an aboriginal man with braided hair and red feathers.
Wolf Leg said Tuesday he was surprised to learn of plans made public by the Calgary Board of Education last week to change the Redmen brand, and said he had relatives who attended the high school, and they were also not offended.
“If I had a problem with it I would have mentioned it a long time ago,” said Wolf Leg, a former nine-term councillor on Siksika Nation. “It didn’t seem offensive at the time and it still doesn’t.”
But CBE officials appear in line with a shift in many school jurisdictions recently that have seen schools do away with monikers and logos that some interpret to be offensive.
Including Wolf Leg, Metro surveyed seven First Nations people from various backgrounds living in and around Calgary Tuesday and found a clear divide in opinions. Three expressed favour for changing the Redmen brand but the exact same number also opposed the move or deemed it much ado about nothing.
Jason Goodstriker, former regional chief of the Alberta’s Assembly of First Nations, parked himself square in the middle of the debate, claiming he sees merit in both perspectives.
“I do know that times are changing and that people want to be more cognizant,” he said. “I respect them (school officials) for having the conversation because I know what they’re doing is challenging.”
But Cory Cardinal, who has family ties to Tsuu T’ina Nation, said he favours doing away with the Redmen brand.
“There’s a lot of things they can name teams after . . . if we had the Calgary Whitemen or the Tsuu T’ina Whitemen it would offend a lot of people — it would offend me,” he said.
CBE officials have said the brand will be changed but have not provided a timeline.
But some Western students still appear keen on fighting the move. Brent Farrell’s “Keep Western Canada Redmen” Facebook page has already been supported by more than 1,300 people.
“It’s never been used as a derogatory (term), it’s always been about strength and pride,” he said, adding, “I just think it’s a non-issue. We’ve had it for so long and we take such pride in being Redmen and we’ve never used the name in a bad way.”
Farrell said he’s seen support from self-identified First Nations people on his Facebook page.
Some speaking out about the coming rebrand even fear it could have a negative effect by removing a conversation-starter of sorts for students.
“For me, as an aboriginal growing up with non-natives, bringing more of our heritage into society at schools wonderful,” said Cheyenne Little Mustache, who hails from the Piikuni Nation.
CBE officials said Tuesday they began discussions about altering the Redmen name and logo in the fall and are having conversations with the First Nations community about the move on a “regular basis.”