Icon pays tribute to charismatic, heroic figure, team says
By Paul Forsyth
THOROLD — The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations has joined the chorus of voices calling for the Thorold Blackhawks Jr. B hockey team to ditch their logo in favour of a new one.
In a new letter to Thorold Mayor Ted Luciani, who is also calling for the logo dating back to 1982 to be changed, national chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo called the logo of a native warrior in war paint with a jutting jaw a “cartoonish, stereotypical depiction” of First Nations.
“(It’s) inappropriate and, frankly, offensive” to both First Nations and non-indigenous people, he said.
Luciani is planning to bring a motion to the next meeting of city council on Feb. 4, asking council members to in principle support calls for a new logo to be phased in over a period of two to three years.
“The logo doesn’t characterize our natives in a proper way,” Luciani told This Week. “I feel it’s demeaning.”
Debate on the logo was ignited last fall when Thorold’s Mitch Baird, program development co-ordinator with the Southern Ontario Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative, launched a page on the Facebook social media site. The page asks people if they think the logo — which is also used on Thorold Amateur Athletic Association (TAAA) kids’ hockey team jerseys — is offensive.
Luciani brought the different parties together for a meeting in the fall, but said the issue wasn’t resolved then.
There was a subsequent meeting facilitated by CAO Frank Fabiano Tuesday night and attended by representatives from TAAA, the Jr. B. Blackhawks owners, and members of the local Native community, including Baird.
Wendy Luce, administrative assistant to the mayor, said the meeting was productive in that attendees agreed to meet again after consideration. She said the meeting will take place in late February or early March after the TAAA membership discusses it at their next scheduled meeting.
Atleo said TAAA association president Gene Citrigno is on record as saying the association is willing to work towards a solution.
Luciani said cost was at first an issue, since money has been spent on merchandise and stationery with the current logo. But he said native groups are willing to phase in a new logo as the old stock of merchandise is used up. Natives are also willing to help design a culturally sensitive logo, he said.
“In this way they can define themselves,” Luciani said in a letter to Citrigno. “I think we can all agree that the caricature of Blackhawk, the warrior, used by our local hockey team is not a flattering depiction.”
Blackhawks co-owners Ralph Sacco and Tony Gigliotti, who purchased the team in 2013, could not be reached by press time.
But on the Blackhawks webpage, a posting said the team was named after Black Hawk, a “charismatic, courageous and heroic” native warrior who made such an impact on North American history that the U.S. Navy named vessels after him, and various states named cities, bridges, lakes and colleges after him.
“I believe that drawing inspiration from our fearless leaders and commemorating their intrepidness is important,” the posting reads. “ It helps our children to learn history and pass a valuable heritage on to succeeding generations.
“The Thorold Blackhawk icon symbolizes the spirit of a great warrior and exemplifies strength, courage and determination.”
More than 30 members of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church congregation in Thorold sent Sacco and Gigliotti a letter recently, after Baird made a presentation to the congregation. They asked the owners to change the logo, saying “it grieves us to see how polarized things have become.” The letter signees also said they’re worried how Thorold will be perceived by media in Canada and abroad because of the issue.
Luciani said in a news release late last year that there’s a North American-wide movement by aboriginal organizations to have sports teams drop logos that natives deem demeaning to their culture. He said while the logo is isn’t under city council’s jurisdiction, “this issue does impact the City of Thorold’s image.”
In a recent letter to city council, Brock University Aboriginal Education Council co-chairs Ashley Lamothe and Dawn Zinga called for the logo to be changed, saying it depicts aboriginal people in a “comedic” fashion.
“Many members of the council expressed concern that they would not let their children play for this team, as they may be ridiculed,” they said.
In a report last October, the National Congress of American Indians released a report on the topic, noting many professional teams adopted ‘Indian’ logos and names in an era when racism and bigotry were accepted, and when “the practice of using racial epithets and slurs as marketing slogans” was a common practice among white team owners.
The congress noted the very high suicide rate among native youth, and said studies show negative stereotypes of ‘Indian’ sports mascots play a role in perpetuating feelings of inadequacy among native youth.
Atleo said getting rid of negative logos is important so that youth aren’t taught that it’s appropriate to stereotype and caricature any cultural group.
“We would not accept or tolerate similarly demeaning caricatures of people of other ethnic backgrounds,” he said.