Nearly a year to the day someone predicted more pressure would be put on Nepean Minor Football and the Ottawa-area National Capital Amateur Football Association to ditch its Redskins moniker, Ian Campeau has kicked it up a notch. The musician, who is an Ojibway from Nipissing First Nations, has filed a human rights complaint after trying since 2010 to get the youth football program to phase out the name.
Think whatever you like about this ongoing issue, but taking it to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal certainly turns up the heat on Nepean Minor Football. The youth football team, since this first became a news story in the nation's capital in 2010, has steadily refused to hear Campeau out on his concerns while regularly declining to state its position to the media ("I’m not commenting on that"). A simple precept of human dignity is that one group of individuals within a community does not get to tell another group what is acceptable; ignoring someone's concerns about possible discrimination could be, in my layman's understanding, tantamount to discrimination.
Campeau says that it was a simple question from his five-year-old daughter that pushed him to file a discrimination complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on her behalf.
"Am I a Redskin?" his daughter asked.
Campeau is better known as Deejay NDN, member of and frequent spokesman for Canadian electronic dance music act A Tribe Called Red. The complaint is directed at the Nepean Redskins, an Ottawa, Ontario-based organization that fields club football teams for youth players who are nine to 19 years of age.
"The players call each other 'redskins' on the field," Campeau said. "How are they going to differentiate the playing field from the school yard? What's going to stop them from calling my daughter a redskin in the school yard? That's as offensive as using the n-word." (Indian Country Today)
It is a complex issue that is not going to be resolved once and for all within a single blog post. I would hope we're all adult enough to understand that use of aboriginal imagery in sports is not representative and does not amount to 'honouring' a people who might never have wanted to be 'honoured' in such fashion. Go ahead and say everyone is too sensitive, but that is a reason the roll call of media outlets who have decided to only refer to the Washington NFL team by its city is continuing to grow.
While it got either ignored or buried, it's worth noting, "Campeau’s complaint to the Tribunal also includes a request to direct the Human Rights Commission to draft a policy on the use of indigenous identities and imagery in sports." It should not have had to come to that, but here we are.
There is no way Nepean Minor Football has dug in for a goal-line stand for racist reasons. The psychology of people who get involved in children's sports is that they tend to like having a bit of power, meaning they're not likely to change what they're doing on the say-so of an outsider. The organization has claimed it would cost $125,000 to change the name and colours, although Campeau's counter-point has been that the change could be made over a five-year span to allay costs. It's also doubtful it's hurting Nepean Minor Football's participation levels, unless there's a rush of suburban football parents signing their daughters and sons up with another team just to avoid being associated with 'that name.' There's nothing behind the intransigence other than good old-fashioned stubbornness. Sometimes stubbornness comes out of being too proud to admit to being wrong.
Making this a human rights case means Campeau, who has backing from Assembly of First Nations national chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo and the law firm Borden Lardner Gervais, is arguing we live in the same community. It's all part of how the world is getting smaller, with people taking a stake in human rights issues that don't directly affect them. Look at how residents of Kingston, Ont., recently rallied around a lesbian couple who received a threatening letter. That would not have happened 20 years ago.
Yet when it's about "indigenous identities and imagery in sports," there's usually backlash, indifference masking backlash or hair-splitting. It's awfully curious Campeau has had to go to this "last resort" in the same city whose minor pro basketball team's original nickname, the Ottawa TomaHawks, was ditched in less than a day following widespread protest. (The team is now the Ottawa Skyhawks.)
Was that different since the team will be representing the city whereas Nepean Minor Football only represents itself?
If so, that would mean the insta-outrage was not about being progressive. It was more about fearing that having the words Ottawa TomaHawks side-by-side would portray an entire city as insensitive out-of-touch clods. It was all about being represented negatively without one's consent, then. Which sounds exactly like where Ian Campeau has been coming for the last few years.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.