Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Language creates reality. Canada's Redskins.

You can see the debate over name Nepean Redskins in very simple terms. It is racist, change the name and logo. It is not racist, change nothing. In truth this is much more complicated and in many ways is the tip of the iceberg. What the people of Nepean should have realized when they changed the name of the football team is that the name Redskins represents the most racist tip of that iceberg.

Those who don't want to change it can make the claim that the name honours Native Peoples. There is truth to that side of the argument. It is one of those examples of stereotyping where other nationalities must think, what are they complaining about; I wish they would name sports teams after us. Afterall, no one wants to name a sports team after something that is weak.

In football, the most physical of all sports not called hockey, you want to have a name that is fierce. Undefeated.  In 1981, the Barrhaven Buccaneers decided that that the name would be the Nepean Redskins. The logo makes it obvious, that the choice was done to emulate one of the oldest NFL franchises and one that would be dominant in the 1980's, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins have been around since 1932 and had won two national championships in it's storied history before winning two Super Bowls in the eighties and one in the early nineties.

The Washington Team has also been public enemy number one in a decades long movement in the United States to end the practice of derogatory Native American sports team names. In the 1960's during the height of the civil rights movement, the National Congress of the American Indian began to call for an end to racist and demeaning team names and mascots. Little changed in the beginning but the work commenced. In the decades since the NCAI and tribal advocates worked to remove or change thousands of sports team names in the United States. In 2005, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) the governing body of college athletics, formally condemned the use of disparaging mascots and banned the use of Indian names, logos and mascots during its championship tournaments.

It's hard to believe that the good people of Nepean were completely unaware that the name they had chosen was considered completely offensive and racist. It is not a name like Warriors or Braves where the argument can be made that this is a name based on power and strength, Redskins is literally about the color of one's skin. It also not possible for the people of Nepean to claim some kind of ignorance based on isolation in some backwater hinterland. Nepean is located in the National Capital Region. It is essentially a suburb of Ottawa. The capital of Canada. These people had cushy jobs and access to the best education system in Canada. Yet, they did not know that the name Redskin was unacceptable.

A recent petition to the United States government co-sponsored by respected Lakota publisher Tim Giago calls it our "N-word". The petition submitted to the U.S. Senate and the House of Representives states, "To most American Indians it is absolutely abhorrent for a professional football team to use the color of their skin as their team mascot. As a matter of fact, we oftentimes refer to the mascot of the Washington professional football team as the R word because to us it is as hideous as the N word is to African Americans."

Language creates reality. What is acceptable in language is accepted in reality. In Nepean they have to face up to the reality that they have a racist name and nothing they can say is going to change that.

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