Two junior hockey team logos are no longer being painted at centre ice in the Brockville, Ont., municipal arena after the city decided their depiction of Indigenous themes didn't align with the municipality's human rights obligations.
The City of Brockville said it will no longer display the logos of the Brockville Braves and the Brockville Tikis at the Memorial Civic Centre and would offer support to the teams if they chose to rebrand — including helping with costs and facilitating consultations.
The Braves and Tikis are part of the same hockey organization, with the Braves being the "A" squad and the Tikis the "B" squad.
While the organization had asked for the logos to be returned to centre ice, the city cited a directive from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) that relates to a 2018 settlement about removing Indigenous-themed sports branding from non-Indigenous sports organizations.
The Braves logo resembles the emblem of the NHL's Chicago Blackhaws, while the Tikis have a stylized illustration of a man holding a spear as their crest.
Dustin Traylen, co-owner and general manager of the Braves, declined to be interviewed before he spoke with local Indigenous groups and the Grand Chief of the Mohawk Council at Kahnawake near Montreal.
While they had disappeared from centre ice, the two logos remained visible on offices at the arena during Wednesday night's game between the Brockville Tikis and the Athens Aeros.
Brian Decaluwe, whose son was playing for the Tikis, said he doesn't see why the Braves logo should change when the Blackhawks are keeping theirs.
"I think it's ridiculous. It's a long tradition, long history. Brave stands for brave warrior," he said.
Ian Ellis, a fan from Woodstock, Ont., also said he doesn't see a reason the teams should follow the example of the Washington NFL team, which dropped its previous name in 2020 after decades of criticism, or the recently renamed Edmonton Elks of the CFL.
"I think it's an honourable type of situation," he said, adding he didn't understand the origin of the Tikis name.
Several others in attendance, however, said they were open to a change if the names offended Indigenous people or the owners decided to do so.
'Offensive and inappropriate'
Ron McLester, vice-president of Truth, Reconciliation and Indigenization at Algonquin College, said the hockey organization needs to demonstrate it has a relationship with the people it claims to be honouring.
"These names, these symbols, these graphics ... were taken from our communities, and they were taken from our people," said McLester, a member of the Turtle Clan of the Oneida Nation, which is part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy.
"They were used for the sole benefit of the proprietor of those sports organizations, and there is no way shape or form that I can see that as 'honouring.'"
McLester said he'd like to see the team engage with local Indigenous groups from its territory so they'd also see benefits from revenues related to those symbols and images.
Appropriating Indigenous culture or using "cartoonish" sports logos to depict Indigenous people is "offensive and inappropriate," said Grand Chief Abram Benedict of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, whose community is located about 100 kilometres northeast of Brockville.
While such appropriation isn't new, Benedict said more people are becoming aware of its ill effects as they learn about residential schools and cultural genocide.
"We are seeing some progress," he said in a statement.
"For example, a certain Washington NFL team finally removed a slanderous name as their team logo. But seeing names such as the Brockville Braves make you realize that we still have quite a way to go."
Benedict said he hopes the organization reflects and considers changing the team's names in order to "do their part" in the reconciliation process marked with last week's National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
Human rights settlement
This summer, the OHRC followed up on requests it had previously made to 40 municipalities to change the Indigenous-themed branding of their non-Indigenous sports teams.
The OHRC letters refer to a 2018 settlement in which the city of Mississauga, Ont., agreed to remove Indigenous-themed imagery and develop a policy on incorporating Indigenous elements into its sports facilities.
The commission said evidence increasingly suggests those logos can create a "poisoned environment" that has a negative effect on Indigenous people participating in sport.
The OHRC also said it was supported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action aimed at ensuring sports policies are inclusive.
So far, 19 municipalities have worked with teams to change their names and logos, from the Sarnia Braves becoming Sarnia Brigade to the Whitby Chiefs becoming the Whitby Canadians, the commission told CBC in a statement.
In two cases, Indigenous communities supported the use of the existing team names and logos, the commission said.
Another 17 municipalities are still engaging with teams and four have not responded to the OHRC's letter, although at least one of the teams in those four communities has ceased operations.