The Chilliwack Chiefs’ management retired their longstanding mascot Chief Wannawin recently. This shot is from one of his last appearances on ice. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Retiring the mascot in Chilliwack was the right decision

Retiring the feather-headdress wearing mascot was a culturally sensitive move by the team

The Chilliwack Chiefs’ management retired its longstanding mascot Chief Wannawin recently.

The Progress covered this decision very briefly initially, and then wrote a followup story explaining why it was so necessary in an age of reconciliation, after interviewing the local Sto:lo leader who suggested it.

“I raised the issue because it’s important for those who don’t understand it, to talk about it,” Chief Dave Jimmie said.

His leadership style is to open up the lines of communication to build bridges.

He tried to explain that comical or cartoonish images can be harmful and damaging.

READ MORE: Local chief explains why mascot had to go

Many readers got it. “About time!” said one. “A timely and respectful transition,” said another. “Way to go Chilliwack Chiefs!”

But the Indigenous leader knew from the outset there would be many who wouldn’t get it. And he was right.

Cue the righteous indignation.

Some of the Progress’s online readership have since weighed in with some comments reacting with dismissive anger, and a surprising thickheadedness, to the decision.

It is nothing short of casual racism rearing its ugly head to state over and over that they “don’t understand” why the mascot needed to go.

They don’t see the image as offensive in any way because it is not their culture or sacred spiritual regalia being depicted.

What is clear is that Canada needs to mend these longstanding rifts, that do nothing but reinforce the otherness.

The only way to see this is as an obviously authentic effort on the part of the local hockey organization to be culturally sensitive and aware, and cognizant of the consequences of casual racism.

The Chiefs should be applauded for taking a good look at how their longstanding Chief Wannawin might be, despite their best intentions, perpetuating hurtful stereotypes, and vowing to make a change.

That is monumental.

This cartoonish mascot never reflected the local Sto:lo traditions in any way, but instead was a caricature of the feathered headress wearing American Indians of the Great Plains.

I get it. People enjoyed Chief Wannawin very much through the years. They connect his exuberant drum-banging image with the wonderful times they spent watching and cheering on the Chiefs.

But the commenters just don’t get that the comical approach hurts.

It’s not about being overly politically correct. It’s not about being overly sensitive. It’s not about needing to cosset everyone in bubble wrap.

It is about the retirement of Chief Wannawin being a bold decision whose time had come.

It absolutely was the right thing to do.


 

@chwkjourno
jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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