Great day on the diamond as we take both ends of a double header thanks to great hitting and solid pitching.
We are currently either living in a delicate time or are we just finally getting around to cleaning house? As I write this, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are turning the World Series into a best of five series that has generated great interest, stellar pitching, but also brought some of the skeletons in each team’s closet to the forefront. In the case of the Chicago Cubs even the most casual fan has heard of the long drought of not only the last Cubs championship, but also the length of time that has passed since they last appeared in a World Series. It was 1945 when the Cubs last won the National League pennant, and since that time we have seen the invention of the colour TV, velcro, and the polio vaccine. 1945 was also two years before the Brooklyn Dodgers would be the first to field a team with a black player on the field in a Major League Baseball game. As for the Cleveland Indians their history has been put into question because of the name on the front of the jerseys and the caricature that emblazons their cap. Many people have their opinions on the usage of the word Indian as a nickname for a sports team - this is mine.
During my time as a minor baseball player I played for the Innisfail Indians, like everyone else on the team I wore my Chief Wahoo hat with pride as I took the field. In 1999 I joined the senior men’s team also named the Innisfail Indians, and did so until 2010. Again we wore the name and the hat with pride, as we convinced ourselves we were honouring a group of people and not slandering them; after all you wear a uniform with valor, and show it as a symbol, whether it be of virtue, or one of strength. There would however be a handful of instances where this logic was challenged throughout my adult years.
One instance in particular took place as our team headed to Saskatchewan to play in a weekend tournament. As we traveled east we stopped in Lloyminster for lunch, and as we finished our meal we noticed that more and more of the players were disappearing, and soon found our squad had placed an entry into the local road hockey tournament in the restaurant parking lot. A tournament that consisted of teams from indigenous decent. As guys threw on their cleats, and negotiated deals to borrow sticks, we were faced with a question that caused immediate pause, and an inordinate amount of time to answer. “What’s your team name?”. A simple question that shouldn’t raise concern or the second and third looks that it caused. It wasn’t as if we had all just met, or were a throw-together group of men; we were the Innisfail Indians, the answer should have been an easy one - except it wasn’t. With strong reluctance one of us finally answered - “the Runners”, which seemed to come out more as a question then an answer; and although nobody challenged this new name, everyone quietly agreed that THIS was the best way to label ourselves in this particular situation. Why? If we were a group of men that believed we were representing strength, and determination on the baseball field, why under these circumstances were we so hesitant to puff out our chests, and declare ourselves The Indians?
In 2010 I helped coach a group of talented young men between the ages of 17 and 21 that needed an outlet to play competitive baseball. In a matter of weeks we formed a junior team, competed at the provincial level, and garnered the title of Alberta representative. This feat came swiftly, and leapfrogged the normal issues that come with starting a new team. We had no equipment, no jerseys, no funding, no identity, and also no name. We reached out to the local senior team, and graciously had all of our issues answered in one fell swoop. We would represent Alberta as the Innisfail Junior Indians. Our success on the field was not by fluke, and we were set to push this venture past being just a one hit wonder. In the off season we set out to legitimize ourselves, and go down the natural path that a team takes to get started. A board was established, fundraising had begun, but one question kept popping up… “what are we going to call ourselves?”.
In 2015 I was once again faced with the elephant in the room. Social media was a prominent tool for interaction, and having your voice heard. To start an initiative, or to be a trailblazer all you needed was a Facebook page and enough followers to cause a stir. This particular uprising was focused on the players of the Innisfail senior Indians. Comments were made to players labeling them as racists, and uneducated, and began to push an uneasy front against people trying to make a difference. Lines were drawn, and backs were arched in the fight against a team name that had no real significance to the players and coaches that now bared it. Just as the junior team culminated a few years previously, a committee of current and former coaches, and players formed. We sat and discussed the issue as only beer league baseball players could, and continued down the path of “what’s the big deal?”. The Canadian government still institutionalizes the word Indian, in such ways as the Indian Act, so how can a term be such a hot button topic, especially for a team that barely garners any interest in the local newspaper?
As the words spilled from my mouth in defense of the Indians moniker, my mind continued to walk down memory lane, and couldn’t help but be reminded of The Runners. I decided to write a letter and send it to each of the available members of local indigenous bands of Alberta in hopes of shining some much needed light on the situation. In total 29 emails were sent to find clarification, and one of those emails garnered a reply. On April 13, 2015 I received a message from a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and that email has forever changed my views. He educated me about the origins of the label Indian, and how it resonates with slavery, and conquest. He taught me of the Dene and Cree people that once controlled the land from Alaska to the James Bay, and how it would be “pretty difficult for them to think of themselves as Indians”. He concluded the email by telling me that “ Canada has adopted a word that is patently racist, and that this racism underlies Canadian identity. Because Canada had institutionalized the word, Canada has a problem with its own identity, and Canada will eventually need to come to terms with its past and its identity.”, these were words that tore down the shield that I used to hide behind.
I find it fascinating that we live in a world of up-to-date social media blitzing, but failed to realize that a baseball broadcaster had stopped using the nickname Indians while calling baseball games for over 25 years. Or how an NFL official managed to go unnoticed as he stuck to his own moral principals and refused to work any games that involved a team with a name that is a “dictionary-defined racial slur”. I now understand that I cannot hide behind a word because it has always been the norm, I can’t pretend that just because a Major League baseball team uses a term that is racist to some, that it is okay, just because they are a widely recognized organization in a major sports league. I now know that there is more information out there to establish what should be a continued practice or something that needs to be revisited in the face of treating people fairly. I’m not hear to tell you what is right and what is wrong, I am merely here to tell you about my time as a “Runner”.
The Innisfail senior baseball team is dropping the Indians nickname. They need your support in making this change. Fundraising meat sale, everyone wins. Message us for more info.
New @majesticathletic hoodies, jackets and pullovers just in.
Thanks to Darcy at Digger Sports for showing me around the new store. Great place to get some hacks in the snow