The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

The fight over high school ‘Redmen’ name and ‘Indian head’ logo is not going away

By in Sports & Health
The Bedford Road Collegiate 'Indian head' logo.
The fight over a Saskatoon high school logo is not going away.

The controversy erupted last month over the name “Redmen” and the logo — a red-skinned man with braided hair — used to represent Bedford Road Collegiate sports teams.

Erica Lee, a third year U of S political studies student and Bedford alum, has undertaken a movement that calls for a change to the school’s name and logo.

“The ‘Redmen’ name and ‘Indian head’ logo are offensive because they represent a stereotypical caricature of a First Nations person,” said Lee.

Lee and four others have created a Facebook page called “It’s time for change.”

The group argues that the logo objectifies aboriginal people and promotes negative stereotypes.

“The style of the caricature, with a stoic face, braids and feathers in his hair — it’s not reality,” said Lee, adding that the image reinforces savage and warrior-like stereotypes of the “traditional” Indian.

This symbol has an “explicit connection to ferocity,” stated Nancy Van Styvendale, a U of S professor specializing in aboriginal justice issues. This ferocity, she says, is typically associated with animal imagery, as many sports teams display; aboriginal people are therefore being dehumanized by the use of the fallacious symbol.

Sheelah McLean, a doctorate student at the U of S and a Saskatoon public school teacher, classifies the issue as a human rights violation. She is a co-creator of the Facebook campaign.

“This symbol contributes to the continuation of dehumanization and racism towards aboriginal peoples that already exists in Canada,” said McLean. “These stereotypes have real material consequences; every oppressive policy used against aboriginal people has come from ideologies and beliefs that were created from similar stereotypes.”

McLean does not believe the issue can simply be settled through a student vote.

“A school vote simply guarantees the status quo,” she said. “The majority of Canadians lack consciousness regarding the historical inequities aboriginal peoples face.”

The public school board remains neutral on the issue and has let media know that the final decision will be left up to the high school. As an institution, Bedford Road is concerned about the potential backlash from parents and students, which McLean predicts will arise if the logo is changed.

The Facebook page started by the group has been a target of bigotry and slanderous comments by those opposing the change.

“Quite [sic] being an attention whore pussy bitch, it’s not gonna happen. People have tried before, get the fuck over yourself” is one amongst many hostile comments posted.

“This is absolutely ridiculous…political correctness should not change OUR traditions and values…we as WHITE CANADIANS have changed enough thanks…give me a break,” reads another.

Students of Bedford Road expressed feelings of general indifference and opposition to the proposed change.

“It represents us as a school,” “it’s just a logo” and “it’s not racist unless you make it racist” were some of the reactions shared by students.

Opposition to the change largely relies on the argument that there are multiple teams using offensive logos and images. Teams such as the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Blackhawks are guilty of the same offense. Those opposing the change would argue that you must change all names and logos that are offensive to effectively make a difference.

McLean believes that this is not an effective argument, however, as it simply reflects a larger need for change.

“This is a national issue and not just one of Bedford Road. There are other schools across Canada that continue to use symbols like this in their school logos, textbooks and history classes,” she said. “It is a problem for us as a nation.”

Others opposed to the change also argue that the symbol is a long-standing tradition of the school — most do not know that the school’s original symbol was a lantern up until 1960 when the “Indian head” logo was adopted.

This is also not the first time concern has been expressed over the current logo.

In 1996, aboriginal students led a campaign to change the controversial name and logo. A school-wide vote took place and an overwhelming 75 per cent voted in favour of keeping the name and logo.

“We get so accustomed to viewing an image that we become desensitized,” said Van Styvendale. “We don’t even see it [as racist] anymore.”

She refers to the logo as “a form of hate speech in imagery rather than words.”

McLean, meanwhile, hopes that through the use of social media they will gain the support needed to make this change.

“There will be a shift in consciousness. People will see that this logo is unbelievably racist and look back 10 years from now and be outraged that people fought to support it,” said McLean.

Image courtesy of CBC

  • Anonymous

    Is there similar outrage for the use of Spartan or Trojan symbols? How about the Senators? Patriots? Kings? Blue Jackets? Cavaliers? Fighting Irish? Wizards? 76ers? Mavericks?
    I could go a lot further, but I have only included one college team. The use of the symbols is not intended as disrespect, but to try to take on the qualities that the symbol represents. I am not saying that the school should be able to have any name or symbol they want. I just tend to heap scorn on bad logic. If every use of a anthropological symbol as a sports logo is dehumanizing them, and equating them to animals, then all of the teams I have mentioned are in the same boat. That is utter hogwash, to me.

    • The issue with the above teams is that none of their symbols are associated with a people that have experienced, and still experience, prejudice based on race and stereotypes (with, perhaps, the exception of the Fighting Irish, although that stereotype is largely disappeared now).

      Also, in response to your anthropological symbol argument: the use of an image of an aboriginal man is dehumanizing because of the long-standing connotations of the stereotypical animal-like savage attached to native people.

      I’m sure someone more educated in related issues can put it more eloquently (and accurately), but that would be my response.

    • Replace Redmen with Blacks, Hispanics or Slant-Eyes and tell me if that still doesn’t seem weird to you. Naming your team the Kings or Senators isn’t the same because Redmen — already a questionable interpretation of skin colour — refers to an entire racial group and not to just any anthropological symbol.

      And finally, it’s a fucking high school sports team. It’s not that sacred.

    • Anonymous

      If you had bothered to read my comment, you would see that my issue was with a logical fallacy, not with defending the use of the team name or image. With that in mind, I would expect that you would at least attempt a logically consistent response.

      First issue. Does the image refer to the entire race? Really? How many aboriginal people do you know that are dressed like that image, outside of ceremonial events?

      Second issue. Whether it is a “fucking high school sports team” or not plays no role in whether it is right or not. What if it was something sacred, or someone considered a “fucking high school sports team” to be sacred. Would that make a difference? I get that it costs the school little to change their logo, and I think they should, just to show some class and sensitivity.

      So, should the team continue with the name? Probably not. It clearly offends people, and a new name could easily be found. Is it a hate speech issue? Not unless you want it to be.

    • Gah! Everyone responded before my previous comment was posted, and I look ridiculous.

      In response to your “first issue”: that is essentially the criticism of the image. It is perpetrating a negative prejudicial stereotype that does not truly represent the aboriginal population. Consider: if someone used the image of an orthodox money-grubbing Jew, is it not offensive because you don’t know any Jews that wear traditional dress and are thrifty with their money?

    • Hello

      See Catherine, “money-grubbing” whether it is associated with Jews or not is a negative trait.

      Now “pride, strength, fighting spirit” is not a negative trait. Your comparison is so over simplified, it’s ridiculous.

      The equivalent to the Bedford “Indian Head” would be something like Bedford Road “wealthy bankers” which is a ridiculous name, but it would be trying to highlight positive traits like the Indian Head aims to do.

    • Ah, touche. Perhaps not the best example to use as a comparison. The point I intended to address with that comment was that just because native people do not dress like that every day, and there are some positive connotations associated with the image, like the ones you pointed out above, the idea of the “noble savage” has numerous negative connotations that shouldn’t just be swept under the table.

      Perhaps the image of a black man wearing overalls (or traditional garb), with the team name the Blackies would be a better analogy. Both team names have historically derogatory connotations. Both could highlight positive aspects of the image; the black man could be argued to represent hardwork, perseverance, pride, and if in traditional garb, the same as the Redmen, essentially. Both stereotypical images have negative colonial history attached to them, history which has had long reaching consequences through to today.

  • Guest

    In this contex is it not considered to represent fighting spirt, pride and strength? What is wrong with that. I would say a consensus from the Native community as to their feelings towards the use of it should be held as many probably associate it with not a derogatory racist meaning but one of the descriptors listed above.

    I would say the Holy Cross Crusaders is far more offensive and derogatory than Red Men as the Crusades mean one thing and one thing only, the genocide of non Christians.

    • guest

      There’s actually a group that seems to be in association with the Redman group in attempt to change the Crusaders’ moniker as well:

    • guest

      Eh thats actually a joke group

    • Guest

      the group seems pretty real to me… if you think it’s a joke then you must think the Redmen one is a joke too..
      Thanks for posting this!

  • Jeremy Thompson

    I’m the least sensitive person in the world, but I’m inclined to think that this should be changed. If it is a private organization it can have a team named the Gooks, Spics, Kikes…whatever they want. But so long as it is publicly funded it should probably drop the image/name just to avoid the controversy. Redmen certainly was a derogatory term. And, as Ishmael said, it’s not that sacred.

    Although I do take one issue with this: the argument could have stopped at “the term Redmen was racial slang for our people and it makes us uncomfortable.” Instead, the argument goes too far and runs into the realm of ridiculous: that this character makes aboriginals look like savages and reinforces savage stereotypes. Honestly, the only people in the world who would see this are liberal arts majors looking for something to gripe about. If people do hold stereotypes towards aboriginals–which they do–it is that the are drunks, lazy, and always want a handout. I came from racistville, SK, and I can assure you, no one was talking about how animalistic aboriginal people were.

    When you take the argument off in some direction like that you do great discredit to it because your average non-aboriginal person is going to look at your argument, focus on the ridiculous parts, and dismiss the whole thing. The histrionics aren’t helping you.

  • Rachel

    Thanks for this article. I hope that this is the last time that we will have to put this particular issue on debate. Yet again, it has brought out the worst in non-Aboriginal Saskatonians. If this logo is such a “non-issue” as some people would like to believe, then why are we seeing so much violent backlash to the proposed change? The young Aboriginal activists who are speaking out and putting their necks on the line are very courageous. One day, maybe people will look back on them with respect and admiration instead of racist hostility.

    • Hello

      This post points out a great point. Bringing up this “issue” conjures up more racist hostility than the logo itself ever did.

      There must be more productive things the aboriginal community can do for their people than change this school logo. Will changing the logo stop anyone from thinking Aboriginals are lazy drunkards, living off the government? Nope, and that’s the real issue here. Bringing the “lazy drunkards” out of the gutter. That’s what I call real change and I would commend that.

    • Rachel

      Couldn’t disagree more. Are you seriously trying to hold these kids responsible for all of the racist comments and threats being directed at them? Victim-blaming at its finest. This campaign was started by students for the benefit of students. Who are you to say that they should be doing something “better” with their time?

      The vitriol only proves that there’s an undercurrent of racism in Saskatoon that non-Aboriginal people want to ignore. Take a look at yourself–you are basically arguing that the stereotypes are justified.

  • A. Rabbitskin

    “The group argues that the logo objectifies aboriginal people and promotes negative stereotypes.” Why would you want to argue that something is offensive towards yourself? If someone says “Hey man, you look like a homosexual in that shirt,” am I going to argue that this person was trying to offend me? No, I would assume he was making a compliment. Just because homophobia is present in some people’s actions/words, that doesn’t mean I need to assume everything that could possibly contain homophobia in fact does.

    • Ms. Anna Free

      Ummmm. They are not actually supporting the offensive stereotype. They are trying to get rid of it. Hello?

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