The Chief logo for minor hockey in the Comox Valley. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Comox Valley Indigenous woman pushing for hockey name change

Agi Seaweed Wisden says the headdress isn’t even part of Island Indigenous culture

Indigenous sports’ names and logos have been generating headlines of late.

The NFL’s Washington Redskins and the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos both recently announced they were dropping their names.

The issue is now rearing its head in the Comox Valley, as a local Indigenous woman would like to see the minor hockey association make a switch from the Chiefs.

“The name needs to change,” said Agi Seaweed Wisden.

She posted on Facebook on a local page on July 24 calling into question the logo, with its use of an Indigenous man. She noted it was problematic for her as an Indigenous person on Vancouver Island.

“Not only are there no feather headdresses here, to refer to a native person as ‘chief’ out of context is a slur meant to degrade the culture as a whole,” she wrote on the post, adding that not only major league sports teams have changed their names but minor organizations as well.

Wisden said she wanted to start a conversation about the issue. She is originally from Alert Bay, but lived here with her family in her teens. As an adult, she was living in Vancouver but wanted to move back to the Island.

“I have only just moved back since the pandemic,” she said. “I came back to my family property in the Comox Valley.”

She told The Record she contacted the minor hockey association through Facebook with her concerns about a month ago and again recently but has not really been able to discuss the issue with anyone. She said she has also heard there has been some discussion locally about the matter.

Wisden said she is a cultural artist and educated, and describes herself as ”fairly political,” but she has not gotten involved with this kind of issue before and admits to being a little nervous about becoming the “face” of some kind of issue.

“I usually don’t do this kind of stuff,” she said. “I was hesitant at first … but I do want to see it changed. There’s tons of children in the Comox Valley who could be influenced by this…. The generation forward is really what you have to think about.”

As to the online response, she initially posted on a local buy-and-sell page of which she is a member, figuring it had a large audience. She admitted she wasn’t prepared for some of the negative responses. The site administrator also took it down, telling her it did not fit site policy but also directing her to other pages that would be more appropriate.

Wisden then reposted and said she had a more positive response than the first time around. One person questioned why the name was offensive, while a few others agreed and asked why a change was taking so long.

The Record contacted the minor hockey association. A representative said via email this is “a very important and sensitive issue and is being treated as such by the executive before it releases any statement,” and that the organization would make a statement as soon as possible.

As well, the newspaper contacted Chief Nicole Rempel from K’òmoks First Nation for comment. She replied she is on holidays but could issue a reply once she returns from her break.

RELATED STORY: Washington’s NFL team drops ‘Redskins’ name after 87 years

RELATED STORY: Edmonton’s CFL team drops ‘Eskimos’ name, will begin search for new name

The issue of Indigenous names is not new, despite the recent moves by Edmonton and Washington football teams, with early campaigns dating back in the 1970s when Stanford University dropped its Indian mascot. In the 1990s, protests followed trends such as the “Tomahawk Chop” made famous – or infamous – by Atlanta Braves fans during the World Series. More recently, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians have kept the name to this point but stopped using the Chief Wahoo logo following the 2018 season.

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