Chicago Blackhawks Taking an Interesting Step
By Parker Olsen
Our nearest professional hockey team, the Chicago Blackhawks, announced on November 1st that they will be reading a land acknowledgement statement before all home games and events. Making this change for the 2020-21 season is part of their effort to highlight, honor and educate about Native Americans during November, which is Native American Heritage Month.
A land acknowledgement is a statement recognizing that the land you currently reside in, or use, was once Native American territory and was unjustly stolen from them. This is used to recognize the longstanding history of your land and to understand your place within that history, according to the Native Governance Center.
The team’s Native American partners were on board with the decision, however little public reaction has been recorded for this specific announcement. The club has been very conscious of the sensitivity of its name and has long worked with Native American groups. This year, the club has also banned the wearing of headdresses by fans. Many hope that the new acknowledgement will raise awareness and create a normalization of being mindful of who’s land you reside on, as well as teach an important and under recognized history.
The statement comes out amid the Chicago Blackhawks’ active effort to justify its name. This year the club has faced heightened scrutiny for using a Native American name and imagery, sparked by the Black Lives Matter movement. Many have been upset with the use of Native imagery, stating it is misuse of an oppressed group and cultures. Arguments also include that the team unfairly uses Native’s ancestors as a mascot. Even so, La Follette student and hockey enthusiast, Rauan Pritchard (12), says that the team seems to do “a great job to respect and honor the Native American community.” The club has done work with Native Americans to ensure the team is respectful. They have worked with Native American veterans, inviting them on the ice during the performance of the national anthem. They have also made contributions to renovations at the American Indian Center of Chicago. However a member of the board at the American Indian Center of Chicago, Les Begay (Navajo), says that the statement is “a diversion from their racist mascot,” and that if they wanted to honor Natives that they would “change the mascot.”
The team was donned as the Black Hawks in 1926, in honor of the Black Hawk infantry division that fought in World War One. That division was named after Chief Black Hawk, a Sauk tribe leader, who fought against Americans settling on Native land in Illinois and Wisconsin. In 1986 the name was changed to Blackhawks, due to an error made around the time of the founding of the team. The club has kept its stance that it will continue to use the name while working closely with Native American communities.