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AFN’s national chief supports appeal for youth football team to drop ‘Redskins’ nickname

AFN national chief Shawn Atleo (The Canadian Press)

The last thing a modest, mom-and-pop community football organization wants is to be a political football. Nepean Minor Football, whose teams are called the Redskins, have long declined to consider losing the controversial moniker. But the driver behind the push, Ottawa musician Ian Campeau, has been passionate about enlisting support in hope the team will see the reason behind changing his name.

Now Campeau has backing from Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn Atleo. That suggests what had been a local news story in Canada's capital region over the past few years could suddenly become more national.

This week, Anishinabe Ian Campeau reached out to Ottawa city council to request assistance and guidance in a campaign to change the name of a local youth football team — the Nepean Redskins, as the term is offensive and does not promote understanding and inclusion among peoples.

"With regard to all cases of racism and discrimination, we must commit to change. We must uncover misunderstandings, address concerns and find mutual solutions in ways that respect and accurately reflect the First Nations cultures and our shared history," said National Chief Atleo, adding that he specifically urges the Nepean youth football club, Ottawa city council and administration to work together with local First Nations on an appropriate transition for the team. (AFN)

Campeau's appeal has not been well-received. For instance, Ottawa city councillor Jan Harder, who told Campeau last month that he is "looking for trouble where none exists."

There is little debate using that name is tone-deaf and insensitive, even if there is no such intention. Nepean Minor Football began using the name in 1981, which was actually after major American universities such as Syracuse and Stanford had phased out Aboriginal-derived nicknames and mascots. At least two Eastern Ontario high schools have dropped "Redskins" as their nickname within the past 25 years; Ottawa-area South Carleton High School did so in 1997 and Kingston's Regiopolis-Notre Dame did it nine years earlier.

There are no two ways about it; the name is derogatory. A sports team that uses such a name responsible for the personal struggles of a group of strangers, or a people, but names such as Redskins, Braves or Indians can reaffirm the sense of powerlessness many Aboriginals encounter daily. It also is different from other nicknames which represent a people such as Patriots or Vikings, because it involves co-opting someone else's culture and heritage.

Campeau's crusade is far from a one-man endeavour. He has expressed willingness to fundraise to help pay for a name change. The AFN's involvement gives this the potential to be more than a local story. Campeau and cohorts have conveyed a certain patience about hoping people come around to appreciating their perspective.

It would be a shame if a chance for learning went by the wayside. This practically cries out for some company looking for easy P.R. to help with raising money for name that is less loaded. Campeau, aside from taking his appeal to Nepean Minor Football's sponsors, isn't trying to force anything. This is more about being collaborative. A name change would tie in well with some of the outreach football people in Ottawa are already doing with First Nations youth from the remote James Bay region of northern Quebec. The Nepean Redskins have even supported that effort by lending equipment to the boys, which makes their refusal to hear out the calls for change seem rather strange. One can only presume more political pressure will be applied.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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