The debate and controversy over the Cleveland Indians nickname has made its way to Queen’s Park.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the A.L.C.S. between Toronto and Cleveland is a chance to “increase our awareness” of the impact First Nations nicknames can have on indigenous people.
Wynne told the Toronto Star people are starting to have a better appreciation for the issue.
“People are understanding the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people differently. There’s lots happening: this is happening in the sports realm; we’re changing the curriculum; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so there’s a lot going on,” she said.
Controversy over Cleveland’s nickname has existed for a while, but returned this week when Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth said in an interview he won’t be using the word “Indians” during the American League Championship Series and hasn’t for the past 25 years.
Howarth told The Fan 590 on Tuesday he stopped using First Nations nicknames after he got a letter from an aboriginal fan after Toronto defeated Atlanta in the 1992 World Series.
Wynne said she thinks the nickname will one day be seen as “unacceptable” but stopped short of calling it racist.
“That’s a question that has to be asked of indigenous people. I don’t think I can answer that question because what’s the context, who’s using it, how is it being used. Those are questions that have to be put to people at whom the language is directed,” she told the paper.
Wynne’s son-in-law is Cree.
Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro says he was “personally bothered” by the team’s Chief Wahoo logo but that the people of Cleveland see it differently.
Shapiro joined the Blue Jays last fall after working in Cleveland for 24 years.
Shapiro said during his Cleveland tenure the nickname was never an issue “no matter how many native American tribes we talked to.”
Protest surrounding Cleveland’s identity is not new.
The team’s mascot, Chief Wahoo, is largely referred to as “the most offensive image in sports.”
The logo is described as a caricature of a Native American face – with a red face, black hair, triangular eyes and a feather poking out from the back of his head.
Over the years the team has scaled back the use of Chief Wahoo. Before the start of the 2016 season, Indians owner Paul Dolan announced that the team would use a block letter “C” as its main logo, instead of the chief’s face. Only a small glimpse of Wahoo can be seen on players’ sleeves.
Banners and promotional material at Progressive Field, the team’s home stadium, often exclude Wahoo’s image. In fact, Chief Wahoo is notably missing from the entire team history section on the Indians’ official MLB website.
The Indians’ attempt to distance themselves from the controversial logo may be due, in part, to a long-standing Opening Day tradition at Progressive Field — protest.
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For over 25 years, Native American groups have filled the streets outside the stadium to protest Chief Wahoo’s association with the team. Groups, such as the Cleveland American Indian Movement, believe the logo is disrespectful and offensive to Native American people.
The Cleveland American Indian Movement has filed legal complaints over the name several times. In 1972, the group unsuccessfully sued Cleveland Baseball for libel and slander over the Indians name and filed a human rights complaint in 1999.
Most recently, the group created a petition to remove the name “Progressive” from Cleveland’s stadium.
“We firmly believe that attaching the Progressive name to institutionalized racism directly contradicts this proclaimed core value, and sends the insidious message that racism is somehow ‘progressive,'” read the petition, started in May.
The petition only garnered half of the 1,000 signatures it needed.
But as the Blue Jays make their way to that very stadium for the first A.L.C.S. game Friday, members of Canada’s indigenous community are starting to weigh in on the controversy.
“I understand the good intentions by a lot of people, and I think even in our own indigenous community, some people don’t see it as an offence. But [Indians] is a term that is not respectful to a lot of people – it shouldn’t be a term that is easily thrown around,” said Grand Chief Shiela North Wilson, of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak.
But North Wilson pointed out that the use of the word Indian is still a legal term recognized by Canadian Law under the Indian Act, which allows indigenous Canadians to obtain their status.
“A lot of us hold Indian status cards that say I am an Indian under the Indian Act,” she said.