The Chicago Blackhawks took a step toward removing their use of Native American symbols, banning fans from entering games and other team-related events while wearing Native American-style headdresses or costumes.
The team said it also will expand on partnerships with Native American groups and work on ways to incorporate indigenous culture into the organization.
In a message directed to fans, the Hawks said: “As we prepare to return to play and represent you in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Edmonton, we want our fans to be very clear on what it means to be part of the Blackhawks family, regardless of whether we can be together in the arena. We have always maintained an expectation that our fans uphold an atmosphere of respect, and after extensive and meaningful conversations with our Native American partners, we have decided to formalize those expectations.
“Moving forward, headdresses will be prohibited for fans entering Blackhawks-sanctioned events or the United Center when Blackhawks home games resume. These symbols are sacred, traditionally reserved for leaders who have earned a place of great respect in their Tribe, and should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear.”
The team has come under criticism from Native American advocates who say the Indian head logo and Blackhawks nickname, derived from Sac and Fox Nation war leader Black Hawk, is offensive to Native American people and appropriates their culture.
In recent weeks, Washington’s NFL team and Cleveland’s major-league baseball franchise have committed to dropping team names, mascots and symbols that Native American advocates and their allies have called out as slurs.
The Hawks issued a statement July 7 that they consider the Blackhawks name to be a tribute to Black Hawk and his legacy. “We will continue to serve as stewards of our name and identity,” the statement said, indicating they had no plans to change the name.
In Wednesday’s statement, the team said it would focus on educating fans and the community about Native American culture and history through its game presentation, United Center displays and online and social media channels.
“Education will be our beacon, and these efforts will continue to honor Native American contributions to our society, including Black Hawk’s legacy,” the statement said.
“It’s not far enough,” Brad Gallant said of the headdresses ban. Gallant, a resident of Mississauga, Ontario, is of Mi’kmaq descent. In 2019, the City of Mississauga banned indigenous mascots and imagery in city-owned facilities as part of a settlement after Gallant filed a complaint.
Some youth hockey teams that play at city arenas still have been allowed to use such mascots, including the Mississauga Blackhawks, whose logo is identical to the Chicago Blackhawks’ Indian head.
“Take a look at the shape of the head on the logo,“ Gallant said. “It’s a caricature of the indigenous person as a Neanderthal with the sloped brow. It’s scientific racism.”
He said mainstream culture’s acceptance of Native American-themed mascots allows fans to give themselves permission to use red face, headdresses and tomahawk chops.
“It creates a culture of racism that is just absurd,” Gallant said. “There’s going to be an indigenous fellow playing for the Edmonton Oilers on (Saturday) night, Ethan Bear,” who is from the Ochapowace Nation. “Imagine (if you were a Black player) or Jackie Robinson having to go into a stadium and play where his opponent wore the old version of Uncle Ben, with the big lips, on the jersey.”
In their statement Wednesday, the Hawks also said they’re working to help build a new state-of-the-art wing for the Trickster Cultural Center, a nonprofit Native American arts center in Schaumburg that has received financial support from the Hawks in recent years.
Trickster CEO Joseph Podlasek, who according to his center’s website is Polish and a citizen of the LCO Ojibwe Tribe, recently told the Tribune that the Hawks have helped improve fans’ education and cultural sensitivity through work with his group.
Podlasek, a Hawks fan himself, said he saw dozens of fans wearing headdresses and imitating Native American war chants 15 years ago. “They had pink and white headdresses and faces painted in black and red,” Podlasek told the Tribune. “Some were looking pretty silly.”
He said the number of fans dressing like that and using war chants has since diminished “from 300 (per game) to two.”
Podlasek said he supports the use of the Blackhawks name, though other Native American representatives have said they strongly oppose the name and will continue to put pressure on the team until it’s removed.
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