As the Washington, D.C., NFL team prepares for a new name and logo, Indigenous activists on both sides of the border say that it's time for minor league sports teams across North America to follow suit.
"Team names and mascots have all been dropped at the lower and high school levels, and change is coming whether they like it or not," said Ojibway activist Tara Houska.
The Washington National Football League franchise announced Monday it is dropping its name and logo, bowing to recent pressure from sponsors and decades of criticism that they are offensive to Indigenous people.
Houska, who was born in the border town of Rainy Lake, Ont., and was raised in the U.S., gave credit to Indigenous advocates who have worked for decades, as well as the support of the Black Lives Matter movement, for making the name change possible.
In 2013, she travelled to Washington, D.C., for an internship at an Indigenous law firm. She was there during the NFL season and said she was taken aback by the culture of the fans in the city.
"I had no idea of how pervasive and how extreme the use of that slur and mascot was," said Houska.
She said she started engaging in campaigns by writing letters, planning demonstrations and doing activism around changing the team's name, mascot and logo.
She said that Indigenous parents who have children in sports will reach out to her for advice on how to begin the process of changing a team name.
"I regularly engage with Native parents all over Canada and the U.S., and they message me and say 'I'm trying to help my kid. They have a racist mascot. What do I do?'" said Houska, a member of Couchiching First Nation.
"I connect them with other Native parents who have gone through the same process. That is happening all across the country."
Barrier for Indigenous youth
Jesse Wente, Anishinaabe and a member of Serpent River First Nation, said it is easy for sports teams to have team names that aren't offensive.
As someone born and raised in Toronto, he points to the city's baseball team the Blue Jays, its hockey team the Maple Leafs and its basketball team the Raptors, as examples.
He said amateur sports teams with racist names in Canada have the potential of excluding Indigenous athletes.
"In Canada we have professional sports teams with the names and logos, but the proliferation of it in the amateur ranks or in the minor leagues across Canada is enormous and I think that presents a real barrier to participation for a lot of Indigenous kids," said Wente.
He said there are many First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities that start their own leagues because of racism in sport. He said amateur sports leagues should be doing everything possible to make sports participation barrier-free.
"Having those logos, not only do they dehumanize and distract but if you're an Indigenous kid you probably don't want to play on a team called the Chiefs or whatever," said Wente.
Wente said in order to get amateur teams across Canada to change their names and logos, people may have to put pressure on the sponsors, like what happened in the NFL.
"It has become, at this moment, unprofitable for this particular slice of racism," said Wente.
Open to discussion
At least one minor hockey team Winnipeg said it's is open to having the discussion about making changes.
The Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League's Charleswood Hawks has been using the Hawks name and the same logo as the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks for 50 years.
"If our Indigenous community does have a problem with our logo, we would have no problem changing the logo," said Tim Scharer, the team's general manager.
He said the team hasn't had any conversations about changing the name, but they are open to sitting down and working with the Indigenous community out of respect.