When a Native American sports logo isn't racist

When a Native American sports logo isn't racist
Warroad Warriors logo via Warroad Public Schools website

Offensive sports names and logos aren't going away anytime soon. There's the Washington Redskins' derogatory name. There's Chief Wahoo, the racist caricature logo of the Cleveland Indians. All clearly racist, all defended by owners and fans.

Changing those images is a noble cause, but sometimes, it can be a slippery slope, leading to shouting matches and more frustration. Which is exactly what happened earlier this week when the Minneapolis-based National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media took on the name and Native American logo of the Warroad Warriors, based in Warroad, Minnesota.

See also: Betty McCollum blasts Redskins owner for not changing team name

The group sent a letter asking the school to change its name and logo. And very quickly, the city's Native American residents -- and more specifically, former NHL player and tribe member Henry Boucha -- were outraged.

In Warroad, the name is different. The team's Warrior name and Native American logo aren't a caricature. They come from hundreds of years of Ojibwe history -- of battles, sacrifice, and tradition. And Boucha says that makes all the difference.

Since around 500 years ago, Boucha says, his ancestors have fought to remain in the northwest corner of the state, losing lives in countless battles with the nearby Sioux.

Warroad was critical to those fights. The town lay right on an old trail that warriors would walk to find their enemies, and it was also right on the water. Ojibwe could paddle across the lake, reach Warroad, and head to battle.

"There's a war trail that's on the southwest part of the lake, and we would paddle our canoes. We would all meet there at this war trail that is now Warroad," Boucha told us. "It's a significant spot for us."

It's that war trail that gave Warroad its name. And when it came time for one of Boucha's ancestors, Na-May-Poke, to name the Warroad team in the early 20th century, only one name made sense to show the sacrifices of his people.

"He wanted the name, the Warroad Warriors, to instill in everyone," Boucha says. "In honor of all those that fell in battle in that significant place and area. We're honoring the name, the Warroad Warriors."

Once Boucha shared that history with the coalition trying to end the Warrior name and logo, it was convinced.

The group retracted the letter and apologized on Facebook, writing:

"Out of further review, we the National Coalition Against Racism Sports and Media Board, in respecting the culture and history of the Warroad Indigenous community, offer our apologies to the elders and community."

Boucha doesn't take the experience personally. And he says there's a lot of good to be done for names like the Redskins, which he calls "outright derogatory" and need to be fixed. But teams like the Warriors -- who are recognizing Native American culture, not deriding it -- aren't the problem. And criticizing them only hurts the cause.

Send your story tips to the author, Robbie Feinberg. Follow him on Twitter @robbiefeinberg.

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