The helmets of the Ontario, Canada, youth football team the Nepean Redskins are emblazoned with the ubiquitous, and many say racist, emblem of the profile of a First Nations citizen or American Indian.

Campaign to Rename Nepean Redskins Grows in Canada

David P. Ball

Controversy over racist sports team names is growing in Canada, sparked by furor that erupted over a Facebook bid to rename the Nepean Redskins, an Ontario youth football team. “I don't want to be called a 'redskin,' ” said A Tribe Called Red’s Ian Campeau, Ojibwe of the Nipissing First Nation, to Indian Country Today Media Network, after his attempt to get the Redskins renamed ignited nationwide debate. Far from embracing his idea, team officials complained that renaming would cost more than $100,000 and said the name wasn't racist anyway. Campeau offered to help them raise the funds.

Ian Campeau

“I don't want them to stop playing football,” Campeau said. “I want to try and come up with solutions. I suggested ways to change name smoothly.” Nevertheless, his bid brought down criticism, including that of a local government councilor, Jan Harder, who said she would not help. “You won’t get it from me or anyone else I know,” Harder responded to his e-mail, according to the Ottawa Sun. “The Nepean Redskin football name is some 40 years old or more and in the entire time I have been in Nepean. Until the last year or so there has never been any talk of name change and even since then only a few including yourself. You are looking for trouble where none exists.” A subsequent op-ed piece in the Ottawa Sun echoed that sentiment. "If you want to call the particular word choice racist, you can certainly go there. But it tells us more about what’s going on in your head than about what’s going on in the heads of the team members and fans," an op-ed columnist wrote in the newspaper. Other media followed suit. “Why am I even getting so much press about this?” Campeau said, comparing the team name to another vulgar racial epithet. "In the media, it's always written as the 'n-word,' but people can say 'redskin' all they want. By any modern dictionary definition, it's offensive. It's completely inappropriate for a youth football team to use.”

Nepean Redskins logo

The father of two said names such as Redskins, the Edmonton Eskimos and the Cleveland Indians all reinforce “acceptable mainstream racial oppression” toward aboriginals. “If society thinks you look like Chief Wahoo, and refers to you as a 'redskin,' obviously that's going to have an effect on you." Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo jumped into the fray too, supporting the campaign and several other anti-racist efforts across the country. “Recent instances of discrimination and racism against First Nation peoples must not be tolerated in any form,” Atleo said in a statement. “Such cases cause long-term negative impacts among our peoples and often times jeopardize opportunities for First Nations and other Canadians to work together. I fully support and encourage grassroots leadership and efforts to highlight and address concerns as an important part of our work toward reconciliation.” Anishinaabeg author and educator Leanne Betasamosake Simpson backed his campaign on her blog. “Indigenous Peoples are the only peoples left where it is considered acceptable to use us as racist mascots,” Simpson, the author of Lighting the Eighth Fire, told ICTMN. “It is not. The vast majority of sports fans that support the use of racist and stereotypical images of Indigenous Peoples as mascots do so because they think it 'honors' Indigenous Peoples. But these same sports fans know next to nothing about the Indigenous nations whose land on which they reside, so the claim that these images 'honor' Indigenous Peoples is a delusion.” The Peterborough, Ontario, author, said her son felt far from honored when he saw the Chief Wahoo logo and name on the website. “'Oh,'” he said, according to Simpson. “'So Anishinaabeg kids aren’t allowed to join?' ” The issues go far deeper than names and labels, she added. “Colonial society likes to position us as 'squaws', 'braves', 'eskimos', 'chiefs' and 'redskins' rather than see us as self-determining strong indigenous nations,” Simpson said. “It makes it much easier to erase our presence, to pillage our lands for natural resources and to continue to build their society on top of ours. Confronting racist stereotypes is important, but it is even more important to confront the colonial system that continues to place Indigenous peoples as less-than-human, our nations as slums and our existence as an inconvenience.” Although the team's president did not return interview requests, Campeau believes they are considering the proposal. “You can't have a non-racist country like Canada when you have teams called Redskins or Eskimos—it's marginalizing,” he said. “They're not called the Edmonton Everybodies! It's unacceptable for any race to be exploited in this way. It's important, as aboriginal people, that we reclaim our own image. We need to hold that power.”

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theroamer's picture
Submitted by theroamer on
I'm behind you 100 percent !!!! I came down to Donna Texas, which is in deep south Texas in 2007 and couldn't believe what I saw. The high school, where all my kids, went to school. ( by the way, they are all 7/16 Ihanktonwan Sioux )Their mascot is the Redskins to, and the misconception of all or any kind of Native belief, they tried to use in their homecoming was appalling to me. I would liken it to one of the schools up north, from where, I came from, naming their mascot the Bandidos. Then making up some Mexican hat dance ritual with a story attached, then throw in a Senorita Princess & Senor Prince living in some special place ruled by a Don Diego or something. It's not my intention to be racist. Maybe ignorant of their proud culture, but it doesn't give them the right to misrepresent or demean our PROUD culture.