When a Native American sports logo isn't racist

Categories: Sports

warroadlogo.jpg
Warroad Warriors logo via Warroad Public Schools website

Offensive sports names and logos aren't going away anytime soon. There's the Washington Redskins' derogatory name. There's Chief Wahoo, the racist caricature logo of the Cleveland Indians. All clearly racist, all defended by owners and fans.

Changing those images is a noble cause, but sometimes, it can be a slippery slope, leading to shouting matches and more frustration. Which is exactly what happened earlier this week when the Minneapolis-based National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media took on the name and Native American logo of the Warroad Warriors, based in Warroad, Minnesota.

See also:
Betty McCollum blasts Redskins owner for not changing team name

The group sent a letter asking the school to change its name and logo. And very quickly, the city's Native American residents -- and more specifically, former NHL player and tribe member Henry Boucha -- were outraged.

In Warroad, the name is different. The team's Warrior name and Native American logo aren't a caricature. They come from hundreds of years of Ojibwe history -- of battles, sacrifice, and tradition. And Boucha says that makes all the difference.

Since around 500 years ago, Boucha says, his ancestors have fought to remain in the northwest corner of the state, losing lives in countless battles with the nearby Sioux.

Warroad was critical to those fights. The town lay right on an old trail that warriors would walk to find their enemies, and it was also right on the water. Ojibwe could paddle across the lake, reach Warroad, and head to battle.

"There's a war trail that's on the southwest part of the lake, and we would paddle our canoes. We would all meet there at this war trail that is now Warroad," Boucha told us. "It's a significant spot for us."

It's that war trail that gave Warroad its name. And when it came time for one of Boucha's ancestors, Na-May-Poke, to name the Warroad team in the early 20th century, only one name made sense to show the sacrifices of his people.

"He wanted the name, the Warroad Warriors, to instill in everyone," Boucha says. "In honor of all those that fell in battle in that significant place and area. We're honoring the name, the Warroad Warriors."

Once Boucha shared that history with the coalition trying to end the Warrior name and logo, it was convinced.

The group retracted the letter and apologized on Facebook, writing:

"Out of further review, we the National Coalition Against Racism Sports and Media Board, in respecting the culture and history of the Warroad Indigenous community, offer our apologies to the elders and community."

Boucha doesn't take the experience personally. And he says there's a lot of good to be done for names like the Redskins, which he calls "outright derogatory" and need to be fixed. But teams like the Warriors -- who are recognizing Native American culture, not deriding it -- aren't the problem. And criticizing them only hurts the cause.


Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.




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16 comments
David Bjorklund
David Bjorklund

Give up the Redskins name, call them the Sovereigns and keep the logo.

Devon Majerus
Devon Majerus

Redskins was never respectful terminology. The others though, like Chiefs, Warriors, Braves, etc. are definitely respectful as long as their mascots aren't racist characters.

Jamie Grimm
Jamie Grimm

Calling an Indian a Redskin is the same as calling a black person a ni**er.

Devon Majerus
Devon Majerus

Good comparison for the Redskins, but it doesn't hold up to the Warriors which is a name you can use in relation to any cultures fighters.

Devon Majerus
Devon Majerus

Okay, there is a huge difference between a racist name like the "Redskins" and names of different positions in a culture. Warriors, Braves, Chiefs, etc. are no different than the Knights, Kings, Raiders, and even the Vikings! As long as they don't have the horrible mascot the Braves have, or name the Redskins have, there shouldn't be an issue.

lovetown_annex
lovetown_annex

"Warrior" isn't exclusive to native Americans or anyone else. They could change their mascot to an army dude in desert camo. They could go from derogatory to "supporting the troops" in one move.

Kurt Vatland
Kurt Vatland

These names where not derogatory but out of respect until the pc word police started brainwashing america into what they want to be offensive. I hope these teams never cave to this pc bullshit.

Jamie Grimm
Jamie Grimm

Atlanta Spearchuckers, San Francisco Chinamen, New York Kikes. Arizona Wetbacks. Minneapolis Queers, Alabama Klansmen, Utah Polygamists, would all be great team names that honor different cultures.

Eric Henderson
Eric Henderson

it should be an honor to have someone idolize a cultural symbol of power, such as red war paint.

Jon Arnett
Jon Arnett

Too bad we didn't have a similar former NHL player in Owatonna when we made the change...Huskies? Seriously...

Zurichfan340328
Zurichfan340328

Yeah, sorry. I disagree. I respect Mr. Boucha's position and his respect for his ancestors, but I think he overestimates the general majority culture population's sophistication in being able to discern which names are self-affirmations of tribal history and which are oppressive. The name should be changed. Hair splitting about intent of the logo doesn't work and will lead to efforts to buy out or bribe the tribes in order to gain their support. Tribes like the Seminoles in Florida were bought off so that FSU could keep its name. We shouldn't get into hairsplitting determining which tribes feel honored to have a name and which don't. Change them all. All of them, whether intended or not, re-enforce the genocide, killing, and suppression of native people by the majority culture. White audiences aren't going to know or care that the tribes support the logo. They will instead subconsciously see the logo as an affirmation of white dominance over the tribes. 

emmaduncan57
emmaduncan57

really! I can hardly wait until I can start peppering my speech with NI***r.

without having to join the republican party.

mingtran
mingtran topcommenter

@Zurichfan340328 Dumbest thing I've ever read. What you just said was "I know what's best for you because I know you better than you do." Fuck off you ignorant bastard.

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