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