-by Phil Henderson

On January 21st Wiarton announced it will host a Junior A hockey team again, a first in nearly fifteen years. The enthusiasm was evident, with South Bruce Peninsula councillors variously describing this as "fantastic news" and a "breath of life" into the area. But that breath of life was quickly caught in the throat. The news of Junior A's return to the Peninsula came with the suggestion of the team's resurrected name: "The WiartonRedmen7576Redmen".

Some will point out that this was the original team name before it was changed and the team folded. But we cannot kid ourselves - even for a minute - about what this name represents. The phrase "red man" has its roots in the same racist thinking as "redskin", or "nigger". Each of these words ought to evoke in us a deep sense of revulsion, as they represent the most concise forms of hatred and white supremacy. These words identify and then denigrate individuals and collectives solely on the basis of how the colour of their skin is perceived.

Others might say that we shouldn't lose our heads over a team name, it's just a name after all... sticks and stones... But the fact is, that people - and overwhelmingly people of colour - have literally lost their heads over these words. These vile words form the cornerstones in the systems of thought that justify the most maniacal forms of violence. Throughout Canada this led to smallpox blankets, forced relocations, residential schools, pass systems, the Sixties Scoop, toxaphene in breast milk, Oka, Ipperwash, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and starlight tours - to merely begin the count. In Bruce-Grey we see all this in microcosm; in the Crown's coercive insistence on Treaty 45 1/2, its refusal to then uphold the terms of that treaty (a refusal repeated again and again with the terms of Treaties 67, 72, 82, and 93, and with the Queen's 1847 Declaration), the arson of indigenous-owned fishing boats, the stabbing of youth from Neyaashiinigmiing, and our own MP's attempts to incite old tensions by falsely alleging that indigenous fishers were in violation of the law.

When we, as non-indigenous people - as settlers - causally or flippantly use a phrase like "red man" we evoke this chain of associations. We evoke it, even as we actively seek to erase it from our histories, so that we can continue to pretend that Canada is now and always has been a gentle and loving country. We evoke it, even as indigenous peoples across this country are proving - yet again - that they are so much more than the violence that has been done to them. As indigenous national identities, networks of solidarity, and knowledge sharing are resurgent, we - the new comers here - have chosen to scoff and attempted to reanimate our cartoonish portrayal of Turtle Island's first peoples.

How galling, how shameful, is it that settlers can so easily welcome and appropriate the racialized and stigmatized image of another people, when as a community we struggle so hard to accept the presence of real indigenous peoples just down the road at Neyaashiinigmiing, or Saugeen, or living in town. It is as if we had decided that our cartoons made more sense to us than the real people and peoples whose territories we inhabit.


Editor's note: Since the original announcement was made January 21 about the Junior A hockey team, there has clearly been some more judicious thought at South Bruce Peninsula. On January 26, the municipality issued a media release saying in part "Despite any previous announcements, the owners of the new Wiarton team have not yet chosen a name however they will not revive any previous Wiarton team names. The team owners are presently giving careful consideration to a new name".