Cape Breton high school changes team name to be more culturally respectful

·2 min read

A high school in Coxheath, N.S., has ended a tradition spanning nearly 50 years by rebranding its sports teams.

Officials at Riverview Rural High announced last year they would drop the name Redmen and begin the search for a team name more culturally respectful toward Indigenous people.

The school said this week that more than 900 students had voted in favour of the Ravens.

School principal Joe Chisholm told CBC Cape Breton's Mainstreet that more than 100 names were submitted for consideration, including the Rats and the Rascals, but the final vote came down to a choice between Fusion and the Ravens.

Chisholm said the new name is more appropriate.

"With what's going on in the United States and Canada, and around the world, everybody seems to be taking this to heart and understanding that it's the way we should be going," said Chisholm.

The move comes as several professional sports teams have come under intense pressure to drop Indigenous nicknames, logos and mascots on the grounds that they're offensive.

Edmonton's CFL team said this summer it will discontinue the use of the word Eskimo in the team's name. Washington's NFL team said it would drop the name Redskins and its logo featuring the head of a Native American.

Officials with the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education said Redmen was originally chosen because of the school colours, and did not refer to Indigenous people.

Allison Bernard, of Eskasoni First Nation, attended Riverview and played hockey for the school in the 1980s.

He said he didn't give the name much thought at the time, because he was just a young kid and people weren't as "outspoken" about racism as they are now.

But Bernard, who now works with the Mikmaq Rights Initiative, and has spoken to students at Riverview about treaty rights, said there's much more recognition now about the hurt such names can carry.

He said he senses a willingness, especially among younger people, to acknowledge that.

"Students are more compassionate these days, the younger generation," said Bernard. "They know, through social media and education, that Aboriginal Canadians have gone through a lot. And they understand our plight."

Chisholm said students were involved in the rebranding, from voting on the name to helping design the new logo. The school will retain its traditional colours of red and white.

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