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Native American Activists Slam Winterhawks Logo As Racist

Saturday, September 20, 2014


Portland Winterhawks logo

Native American activists see the logo of the Portland Winterhawks as offensive and are demanding the team make a change.

“Mascotry has to stop,” says Jackie Keeler, a Portland activist, member of the Navajo and Yankton Dakota Sioux Tribes, and founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry

Keeler, who used her writing and thousands of Twitter followers to help focus the nation’s attention on the NFL's Washington Redskins, is turning her attention home. Her group is planning to send a letter to the team asking them to change their logo, which depicts a stereotype of a Native American.

The logo doesn’t actually have any historical connection to the region.

While hockey has been in the city since 1914, the Winterhawks (then known as the Winter Hawks) started in 1976 when the Edmonton Oil Kings relocated here. The logo came when the team’s owner acquired a bunch of surplus Chicago Blackhawks jerseys from that team’s management.

'Offensive' logo

“It shows us in a way that does not represent who are,” she says. “It makes it easier to discriminate against us and cannot be allowed to continue. 

It’s offensive. It does not depict me, my family or anyone I know.”

If the team does not change the logo, Keeler and her group will step up their efforts.

“We will stage a Twitter storm, there will be protests,” she says. “We will not be quiet.”

A spokesman for the team, Graham Kendrick, says they have not received any notification protesting the team’s logo and feels it would be inappropriate to comment until they do.

Keeler says she is offended by the concept that one image can be held up to represent peoples who were spread among hundreds of nations that were well-established long before the United States came into being.

“The Navajo are different than the Iroquois who are different than the Nez Perce,” she says. “The nations of the Southeast are different than those on the Plains and they are different from those in the Northwest.

“It’s as if you took Italian, English, Irish, French and people from Spain and just referred to them all as Europeans.”

Keeler is far from alone in her distaste with the Winterhawks’ logo.

Dealing with discrimination

Matt Morton is executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center, where he is dedicated to helping Native American youth. He says when he sees the logo, he gets a sense of the depression his father, a member of the Squaxin Island Tribe, felt when dealing with discrimination.

“One of the strongest images I have from childhood is the family sitting around the dinner table and my father expressing thanks that his children presented as white,” says Morton. 

“He experienced discrimination in his personal life, at work. It hurt him.”

Morton, who is also a member of the Portland School Board, says mascotry like the Winterhawks logo can have serious consequences.

“I see how mascotry hurts children, hurts their self-esteem,” he says. “It produces an environment where it becomes OK to mistreat people, to bring them down.”

Morton says that images put forth by the Winterhawks, the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball team lead to misperception among the general public about who Natives Americans are, how they look and how they act.

“At its best, the mascot presents a romanticized image of our people, while at its worst, it presents an image that is removed from reality and is really damaging,” he says. 

“In the 21st Century, reality - with many of us living perfectly normal urban lives - is very different than that image.”

“Enough is enough with mascots," Morton says. "They are the result of other people trying to define who we are.

"We have a responsibility to define ourselves and cannot allow others to do it for us.”

Both activists hope the Winterhawks will make the change and the level of battle that has engulfed the Redskins can be avoided.

That fight has seen half the members of the United States Senate - including Sens. Wyden and Merkley from Oregon - asking the NFL to help force a name change for the team. And the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the trademark on the Redskins name over the summer, deeming it “disparaging.”

The Winterhawks open their season tonight at the Moda Center.


Related Slideshow: 5 Sports Teams With Offensive Mascots

Native American activists see the logo of the Portland Winterhawks as offensive and are demanding the team make a change. Here a some other mascots certain people find offensive. 

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The Portland Winterhawks

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The Chicago Blackhawks

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The Washington Redskins

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The Cleveland Indians

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The Richland Bombers


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