'Redskins' is no honour, it is an insult
- 'Redskins' is no honour, it is an insult
BY DON KELLY, OTTAWA CITIZENSEPTEMBER 8, 2013
Bruno Schlumberger/Ottawa Citizen
Photograph by: Bruno Schlumberger, Ottawa CitizenIt's time to change the name of the Nepean Redskins.
Let's deal with the easy questions first. Is changing the name of the Nepean Redskins the biggest issue facing First Nations? No. Are the people involved in the Redskins organization racist? Of course not. Should the name be changed? Absolutely.
It should be obvious that the term "redskins" is derogatory and offensive. Ask yourself: would you support a team that purports to honour African Canadians by calling itself the Blackskins? Or Asian people via the Yellowskins? If not, then how can you support the Redskins?
No doubt there are some First Nations people who'll say they're not offended, but that doesn't change the fact that the vast majority of First Nations people are. In 2013, we shouldn't be teaching children that people are to be defined by the colour of their skin, or that tossing around the term "redskin" is acceptable. I feel for a six-year-old child who gets called a "redskin" by his friends on the playground and, hurt or crying, is told that he should feel "honoured."
I assume "redskins" is supposed to be an honour because all First Nations people are, supposedly, rough and tough fighters. Well, that's a stereotype. Many are peaceful, some even fearful (I'd own up to that myself if I weren't such a coward). We have poets, dancers, accountants and bureaucrats. Many are fiercely proud, but that doesn't make them fierce. And if you think all First Nations people are fierce, then you probably think "savages" is a term of honour as well. See the problem?
Here's a tip: if you're offending the people you're trying to honour, you're probably not honouring them (and is there not a single name out there that connotes a fighting spirit without offending people? Is it really that hard?).
This is an issue for First Nations because the attitudes that allow people to think "redskins" is acceptable are at the core of broader attitudes that allow people to feel that First Nations can be ignored, marginalized and treated as less than human. The longer we allow names like the "redskins" to persist, the more these attitudes can take root.
There's an encouraging, growing consensus here. The NCAA banned these names and mascots 10 years ago. Where they're to be used, teams must first seek permission from the relevant Indigenous nation.
Publications like Mother Jones magazine and Slate refuse to print the name Washington Redskins, as do some daily newspapers.
The one, legitimate excuse raised for keeping the name is the cost of changing the logo and uniforms. Well, first, we do the right thing because it's the right thing to do; we don't hold off because of money. Second, First Nations artists and performers are offering to organize fundraisers, auctions, even help paint new signs and scoreboards. The complainant, Ian Campeau, is a member of A Tribe Called Red, one of the hottest electronic music groups on the planet. We'll all donate time and money.
It's too bad it has come to this, but many First Nations people (including me) and non-First Nations people have been trying to reach out to the team for a couple of years now, only to be rebuffed at every turn. The first step in this human rights process is to try to resolve the issue through open engagement by the parties. That's all we've been asking for and there's hope it can still be resolved.
If the Nepean Redskins organization truly wants to demonstrate strength and bravery, they'll climb out of this entrenched position, abandon archaic thinking and do the right thing. It's time to change the name of the Nepean Redskins.
Don Kelly is an Ottawa-based broadcaster, comedian and communications professional and a citizen of the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation.
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