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Redskins jersey about pride, not prejudice

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WINKLER -- The scene was set. CBC was hosting the broadcast of the Toronto Maples Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens hockey game in Montreal from the Winkler Recreation Complex.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/02/2008 (5414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WINKLER — The scene was set. CBC was hosting the broadcast of the Toronto Maples Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens hockey game in Montreal from the Winkler Recreation Complex.

Behind the Hockey Night in Canada set, more than 1,500 fans jammed into the sold-out Winkler arena Thursday night. On the ice, Winkler hero Dustin Penner of the Edmonton Oilers would have his former jersey No. 27 with the local Winkler Zodiacs retired and raised to rafters. Then there would be a good old local hockey game.

Bits of that hockey game between Morden and Plum Coulee would air coast to coast. That is, the game between the Plum Coulee Xpress and Morden Redskins….

That is, Redskins, as in a name once used to describe aboriginal people…

Is that really what Manitobans wanted to show the rest of the country? Does that anachronism of a name really fit in with Hockey Day In Canada themes of hockey’s inclusiveness and nation-building?

Most fans in the stands didn’t want to touch that one with a 10-foot hockey stick.

Morden is just about 10 kilometres west of Winkler, and is sharing many Hockey Day In Canada functions with Winkler. Many hockey events were held in Morden Friday, including that night’s gala banquet with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry that more than 600 people paid $125 a pop to attend.

Morden and Winkler have always had a mostly friendly rivalry. Morden was originally settled by the British while Winkler is where Mennonites, initially from Germany and later from Russia, landed.

Both communities are experiencing phenomenal growth, thanks to homegrown entrepreneurs who are fostering a massive injection of immigrants. At one time, it would have been sacrilege to suggest the two communities could one day become one large city but that’s not so far-fetched anymore as they spread out to accommodate growth.

The Morden hockey team’s jersey does not feature a profile of an aboriginal person, like the more famous Washington Redskins football jersey. The name Redskins slants across the front of the jersey in red lettering with white border. The jerseys are black with red-and-white piping at the bottom. A patch on the shoulder features two tomahawks crossed.

South Eastern Hockey League commissioner Dean Harris, at the game, was asked if the name is derogatory, suggesting one could be judged by the colour of one’s skin.

“I don’t consider it that way. The way I see it, it’s a traditional name. It’s the team upholding its tradition.”

It was suggested there have been good traditions and bad ones, and the bad ones tend to be thrown out after a time. “The name, whether you define it as aboriginal people or not, that isn’t what it’s about. It’s about the team and its history,” he replied.

At one point, Harris said the team could be called The Gays and it wouldn’t make a difference, it’s just a name. He seemed to sense he might be digging himself into an even deeper hole and quickly insisted such a name wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

However, Harris said he doesn’t make decisions about names. “If we had a controversy over the name, we’d deal with it. We adopt the attitude if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

One of the Morden Redskins is forward Brent Meleck, an aboriginal person. He bristles at the suggestion the name has negative connotations.

“I’m proud to put on this jersey every night. I don’t see it like that,” as a negative, he said, standing behind the bench just before the game was to start.

“It’s promoting sport. It’s promoting aboriginal people. It’s all positive,” he continued.

Meantime, not only in the stands but on the ice, the Redskins won Thursday night. CBC host Ron MacLean called it as he signed off Hockey Night In Canada’s special Thursday night edition. The telecast ended with a missed empty net by Morden and then the Morden netminder blocking Plum Coulee’s last scoring attempt.

Morden Redskins over the Plum Coulee Xpress, MacLean said.

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