It’s hockey playoff season. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t know this basic bit of information, but fortunately, I have Rowan to remind me.
Despite having me for a mother, my nine-year-old has a healthy interest in sports. His favourite subject in school is gym. He plays soccer multiple times a week, and kicks a ball around in the backyard when he’s not at an official practice or game. More recently, he’s become interested in hockey. And while we’ve thus far avoided becoming hockey moms, Rachel and I have started indulging our older son’s requests to watch the playoff games on TV. It’s pretty adorable, really, listening to him cheer on his favourite players and quote endless stats to us—even if I have no idea what he’s talking about.
So, when Rachel and I went to Chicago recently, Rowan had one request: “Go see a Blackhawks game for me,” he said. “Or at least bring me back a Blackhawks jersey.”
Remember: I know nothing about hockey, or hockey jerseys, aside from reading Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater to my kids. So it took until we got Chicago and I saw people everywhere wearing them for me to realize just exactly what a Chicago Blackhawks jersey looks like.
“There’s no way,” I said to Rachel, “that we can buy one of those for Rowan.”
For the uninitiated, the team’s logo features a caricature of a First Nations man in a feathered headdress. His nickname is “Tommy Hawk.”
I know I’m late to the party on this particular controversy, but, come on: how is it that we aren’t yet past the idea that it’s at all acceptable to appropriate First Nations names and symbols for sports teams? I’m not going to repeat the arguments that have been hashed out for decades now about the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Redskins. At best, the practice is insensitive and inaccurate and perpetuates stereotypes. At worst, it’s racist and potentially damaging—to both native and non-native populations.
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We’re privileged to live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, in close proximity to many First Nations reserves and with a significant Aboriginal population in the city. And there’s simply no way that I am prepared to let either of my children sport a symbol or logo (here or anywhere else) that so blatantly ignores the complicated and often brutal history of this country’s Aboriginal population post-contact with European settlers.
We bought Rowan a Montréal Canadiens shirt instead (at the Montréal airport, on the way home from our trip). He’s thrilled. We have yet to sit down and discuss the reasons why we couldn’t get him a Blackhawks shirt, but it’s a conversation we plan to have soon. He needs to know that the symbol on the hockey jersey isn’t his to use, that loyalty to your values is still more important than loyalty to a team, and that respect for everyone in this country is more important than who wins the playoffs.
Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences. Read more of Susan’s The other mother posts and tweet her @MamaNonGrata.