June 19, 2018

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Bombers kick off season against the Edmonton oppressors

Opinion

Football is pretty simple.

There’s a line in the middle of the field. On one side is my land. On the other is their land.

My job is to go into your land, occupy it and then do a little dance.

And how to do I get this land? Through kindness and dialogue? Nope.

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Football is pretty simple.

There’s a line in the middle of the field. On one side is my land. On the other is their land.

My job is to go into your land, occupy it and then do a little dance.

And how to do I get this land? Through kindness and dialogue? Nope.

Violence. Force. Occasionally, tricks.

If I get far enough I get rewarded with points. If I take it all, I get the most.

Then the celebration really begins. And that’s it.

Pretty simple.

Football is a game that celebrates land theft.

That’s what it is.

Now, I don’t say this because I hate the game.

The goal of baseball, hockey and basketball is basically the same. What else is a stolen base but land acquisition?

Lacrosse, a game invented by Indigenous peoples has, pretty much, the same purpose.

Sport isn’t the problem, it’s what the sport says.

I also, for the record, have been a loyal Bomber fan since I was a kid.

Mike Gray’s interception of Matt Dunigan’s pass in the waning moments of the 1988 Grey Cup remains one of my favourite memories of all time.

I was also very proud when the Bombers were the first Winnipeg sports team to make an acknowledgement of treaty before games. The Bombers now say it alongside the national anthem (note this, Winnipeg Jets!).

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers start their season Thursday against Edmonton.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers start their season Thursday against Edmonton.

Acknowledging treaty before sports has little to do with the past, it’s about the future. Before you do something that could hurt relationships you should remind people how to build them.

Sports are a powerful story. A story millions of people watch.

Sports are a story full of drama, intrigue and mystery. A story we don’t know the end of, which is probably why we love it so much.

So, this week another story starts with the CFL season kickoff.

And who is coming to town?

The Edmonton football team.

Now let’s get something straight.

Sports logos do not honour Indigenous peoples.

If you are playing a game where the goal is land theft and you dance around in the colour of blood and wear decapitated Indian heads (I’m looking at YOU, Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins), you’re honouring no one.

You’re performing history.

No matter how many times someone endlessly repeats "it’s just a game," the fact is that you are triggering memories of genocide.

You’re literally playing it out — and not in the good, healthy way — in a mocking, headdress-wearing, beer-swilling, violent kind of way.

Indian sports mascots are triggering, disrespectful and downright racist.

Which brings me back to the Edmonton football team.

You may remember late 2017, when everyone was talking about the Edmonton football team’s name, particularly members of the Inuit community.

In a Globe and Mail op-ed entitled Attention Edmonton Eskimos: Inuit are not Mascots, Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiritt Kanatami, said: "I reject any arguments that the name is benign and has positive intent… (it) does not honour our culture, our history, our present or our future. The name is an enduring relic of colonial power."

In other words, the Edmonton football team name is evidence of violence, oppression and a celebration of theft.

The name even began via insult more than 100 years ago from Calgary reporters joking about how far north Edmonton is.

Cory Watson reacts to losing to the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL West Final football game in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017

JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Cory Watson reacts to losing to the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL West Final football game in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017

Nothing about the name is positive, it seems.

The question is whether the rest of us will be complicit. Every time we use the name we agree in a small way that it is OK. On the PA system. In the newspaper. In tweets.

Every time.

Edmonton knows this. The team asked their fans in a survey before the season started if the name should be changed. The results are still being tabulated.

I’m not hopeful. If there is one thing I know, it’s that people conditioned to think something is OK — even when it is clearly not — will think it is.

So it’s up to us. We must refuse to use the name.

Every opportunity we must say this is not OK.

The title "Edmonton football team" is clunky, I know. It’s hard to market, too.

That’s the point.

The tide is shifting in Edmonton, slowly.

In addition to Inuit singer Tanya Taqaq and alumni Andre Talbot decrying the name, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson recently warned that he thinks the 2018 Grey Cup, hosted by the city, "could be beset by a very charged conversation around the team name."

Um, duh. Yeah. Genocide has a way of getting in the way of celebration.

Especially during a game that celebrates land theft and Indian sports mascots — even if they are in green and gold.

Don’t be confused. It’s the same thing.

C’mon, Edmonton.

It’s obvious what the end of this story is.

Let’s get to it.

 

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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