The Soapbox: Warriors' throwback blunder an opportunity disguised

Justin Crann
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Society has come a long way in 30 years — especially in its understanding of equality and basic human rights.

Warriors player Brayden Point is pictured modeling the club's 30th anniversary jersey. The jersey is the focus of a Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee letter expressing malcontent with what it calls an Aboriginal caricature.

This week, Moose Jaw was again reminded of that fact when the city’s Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee (CDAC) brought forth a letter of grievance reflecting the group’s issues with the Moose Jaw Warriors’ 30th anniversary jersey.

The jersey, released in February, was called to question by the committee on Monday because it features “a caricature of an aboriginal person,” Barb Frazer, who chairs the group, told the Times-Herald.

The image is that of an aboriginal man with a red feather headdress wielding a tomahawk and hockey stick. It was the image worn by the team when it moved from Winnipeg to Moose Jaw in 1984.

“That character is totally insensitive, culturally, to the richness (of the culture) and to the warriors,” Frazer added.

To the Warriors’ credit, it wasn’t their intent to be insensitive — a point Alan Millar, general manager of the franchise, clarified.

“We have nothing but respect for our First Nations people and we have always felt that the Warriors’ name has been in respect of their heritage,” he said.

That respect was reflected well in the Warriors-sponsored visit of Fred Sasakamoose to the Friendly City last year. Sasakamoose spoke about his life and experiences as a Moose Jaw Canuck and the NHL’s first aboriginal player.

“(The jersey) has been about historical significance and the tradition of the team,” asserted Millar, who was also quick to add the jersey will only be worn for a select number of games — likely between six and eight — throughout the 2014-2015 season.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always left in the lap of one individual or organization to determine everything that a logo is about — especially in the case where the logo represents a figure belonging to a different race or culture.

In cases such as this, it is often best to defer to the judgment of the individuals who are impacted by the depiction — namely, those belonging to the First Nations cultures the jersey is said to malign.

Further, it is important to remember that one aboriginal person saying the jersey is “OK,” or “not a problem,” doesn’t make it OK and certainly doesn’t eliminate the problems that arise from the image.

When the jersey was first revealed, I guffawed, in no small part because of the horrible timing: here we are, in the midst of a cultural zeitgeist that appears to be pushing against questionable depictions of aboriginal culture in sport, and an organization is revealing a throwback jersey that puts one such questionable image right back in the public eye?

It struck me as nonsensical at best, and potentially insulting — though not to my heritage or culture — at worst.

The throwback logo may have been perfectly acceptable in 1984, and it may have even been given a pass as recently as 10 or 15 years ago, but we live in a different time with different sensibilities.

As Frazer said, we live in an era of reconciliation; the dredging up of old stereotypes that convey negative sentiment or cause distress among the First Nations community is not helpful.

Unfortunately, the decision has been made and the Warriors have passed the point of no return.

More than 200 of the jerseys have been sold and the team is committed to sporting the look for those six to eight games of this season.

The cost would be too unreasonable and the timing too impractical to ask them to change direction at this point, and that certainly doesn't appear to be Frazer's or the CDAC's goal in presenting their letter.

However, rather than simply saying the organization isn’t trying to be culturally insensitive, the Moose Jaw Warriors should be taking steps to prove it.

Those steps begin with an apology and end with a concession to the CDAC’s demand that the Warriors consult aboriginal advisers when considering logos, branding and marketing in the future.

This misstep doesn’t have to be punctuated with negativity and a clash between aboriginal groups and the organizations that have used them as mascots or logos.

It can be used as a positive learning opportunity — a chance to educate about aboriginal culture, involve First Nations people when important decisions are being made, and get everybody’s input on what they want to see in the future.

The Moose Jaw Warriors, as Millar told the Times-Herald on Monday, are a community team.

Moose Jaw is — or aspires to be — a friendly, accepting and tolerant community.

The result should be obvious.

You can follow Justin Crann on Twitter or like him on Facebook.

Organizations: Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee, First Nations, Times-Herald NHL

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Winnipeg, Friendly

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