Tuesday, January 07, 2014

If you're gonna name your team after real people, at least do it right

We live in a world with NFL teams like the Washingtons* and MLB teams like the Clevelands*, that celebrate a tradition of white settler racism. A world where most sports fans lie somewhere on a spectrum from oblivious to indignant, mascots are unrepentantly racist, and owners have dug in their heels in defense of horribly offensive "traditions".

[* That's right. I refuse to use their chosen names. More on that below.]

That being the case, it seems important to celebrate the teams that do it right. Teams like the Spokane Indians. From Rodney Harwood of the Indian Country Today Media Network:
"In 2006, the baseball team’s front office and the tribe collaborated to come up with a team logo not only saying Spokane Indians in English, but developed a team logo printed in the Salish language, which was depicted on the sleeve of its uniforms.

"The Spokane Indians baseball team will take that collaboration one step further, making the logo in the Salish language the main logo on the front of its home uniforms for the 2014 season."

A Salish-language logo? And it's also their primary logo? That's pretty damn cool. It also addresses the obvious concern that this is a team called "the Indians". This is a word that was applied to the Aboriginal people of North America by white settlers, who misidentified them as Asian - and then didn't bother to correct themselves. It's inherently racist.

Impressively, the team is aware of this and shares those concerns - they don't use mascots, they don't have chants, none of that cartoonish crap that the Washingtons or Clevelands use. Says team co-owner Andy Billig, “We have a very positive relationship with the local tribes. We would talk with them from time-to-time to check in and say, ‘How are we doing?’ Even if we weren’t using any imagery, the name of the team was still the Spokane Indians and we knew that could potentially be sensitive. We believe that we are still the only professional sports team to collaborate with local tribes in this way.” 

The difference, with this Spokane team, is all in the collaboration and the new/old language. In making the Salish name the one that goes on their logo, with the help of the Spokane Nation, the name is effectively reclaimed - "Indians" becomes, at best, an English translation of the actual name. And an officially sanctioned nickname for the specific people that they represent. And it will surely decline in use as people familiarize themselves with the pronunciation of the Salish name.

This, by the way, is what that logo looks like:

In the past, I've always come down squarely against every iteration of the people-as-team-mascot kind of sports team. But this one, one that Spokane elders themselves say shows them respect and bring them pride? This is one that I feel pretty good about.

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