Morden school to drop Mohawks name

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MORDEN -- One young woman's dawning awareness of racial sensitivity has sparked a firestorm in this quiet town over the high school's long-standing name of Mohawks for its school teams.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/03/2004 (6840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

MORDEN — One young woman’s dawning awareness of racial sensitivity has sparked a firestorm in this quiet town over the high school’s long-standing name of Mohawks for its school teams.

Grade 12 student Meghan Menzies was honoured by native leaders at an assembly yesterday at Morden Collegiate for her quest to persuade her fellow students to drop ‘Mohawks’.

But many students were unmoved — saying they saw nothing wrong with using the name and questioning the fuss that brought more than a dozen journalists to the packed school gym.

Principal Dan Pona said the school and community are still a long way from developing a consensus, but teachers and some students believe the name Mohawks and several caricatures on uniforms and crests cannot continue.

“No, not after what we’ve heard today,” Pona said. “I think I speak for the staff — we can’t see ourselves retaining the name.”

Ultimately, Pona said, Western School Division trustees will have to decide if they will approve whatever team name the school recommends.

“Sensitivity is so important,” said Pona, who believed yesterday’s assembly had a huge impact on students. The school will not put it to a vote, he said. “We don’t want to get into a yes/no, because that polarizes.”

Menzies said yesterday her campaign started unexpectedly two years ago when native playwright Ian Ross came to the school. “We dressed up in aboriginal attire, not even aware that it would be offensive,” she said.

Ross explained his feelings to the students and a light went on in Menzies’ head.

“The staff have been supportive,” said Menzies, who’ll go to the University of Winnipeg next year and hopes to be a lawyer with Amnesty International.

But she admitted she was naive in expecting students to immediately embrace her campaign to change the school team name.

“I won’t say students are begging me to continue,” she said. “It doesn’t make me popular, (though) it’s not like I’m getting booed in the halls.

“I was naive when I came into this. It has to change — hopefully when I’m still here,” she said.

Menzies said one team has already dropped the name. “The soccer coach, Mr. Darryl Toews, he’s decided not to be called the Mohawks, (simply) the Morden soccer team.”

Beverley Jacobs, a lawyer and Mohawk from southern Ontario, asked the 500 students to “please stand if you know anything about my people.”

One boy stood up.

Jacobs thanked him and told the rapt students, “What I ask for is respect of my people. The warrior in our language doesn’t mean someone who takes up arms.”

The hockey emblem of a screaming painted face “is not who a Mohawk man is. When you see something depicting not what your people are, it’s very upsetting,” Jacobs said. “When you say ‘home of the Mohawks’, it should mean that.”

But moments after the assembly ended, hockey player Matthew McElroy told reporters: “Mohawks are who we are and who we’ve been. People will still be proud to wear the jersey.”

“I think our name should stay — our parents graduated as Mohawks,” declared Cam Mayert, a member of the school hockey team, shortly before attending the assembly.

Mayert wore his hockey sweater that featured a screaming native man with face paint and a ring in his ear.

“I think we should keep the name,” said student Krista Holliston.

“There’s names like Vikings, and people aren’t offended by that.”

Pona said the collegiate is using an “M” flanked by two feathers as a temporary logo, but pointed out that whatever is decided, it will cost a considerable amount of money to replace the team uniforms and other symbols. Morden Collegiate has already dropped one logo of a tomahawk-wielding native caricature.

Roseau River Chief Terry Nelson told the students that the Mohawks are a people, not a mascot. “You lower them as a people, to something that’s like a Portage Terrier or Churchill Bulldog,” he said.

“If I put a team together in Roseau River, how about the Ojibway Mennonites? How about the Morden Jews? The Morden French?” challenged Nelson. “If my Ojibway Mennonites team scores a goal and I go (drawing a cross in the air with his hand), do you find that offensive, or am I honouring you?”

Sharon Menow, outreach co-ordinator for Winnipeg-based United Against Racism, told the students they are not responsible for the name, which dates from the early 1960s.

“I would like to personally congratulate you for having the fortitude to open your minds. This is your opportunity to cleanse yourself of the institutional racism that exists within your school,” Menow said.

Grand Chief Margaret Swan of the Southern Chiefs Organization gave students a brief history lesson in Europeans taking away native land, “discovering” and attempting to “civilize” indigenous people, and in forcing native children to attend residential schools.

At a local coffee shop yesterday, Mike Enns said it is honouring Mohawk people to use their name. “These people should lighten up,” he said. “(Mohawk) denotes a certain kind of person — there’s fear, aggression, respect. You’re a hockey team, come on. If I made a hockey team called Mohawks, I’d say ‘hey, I’ve done something,'” Enns said.

In an unexpected coincidence two blocks from Morden Collegiate, a sign at the eastern entrance to town proclaims that tonight’s adult men’s hockey game will pit the (Morden) Redskins against Carman.

In the U.S., professional teams such as the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins have come under heavy fire but have refused to budge. Stanford University switched from Redmen to Cardinals, but the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux have kept their name.

Menow said she is planning a similar campaign over the Westwood Collegiate Warriors’ native logo and the use of Mohawks by a teenage community hockey team in Mitchell.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca
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