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‘We can do better’: Ontario minor baseball team drops Indians name

The Southern Ontario team’s move to change its name comes amid growing controversy over the moniker and logo used by the Cleveland Indians

Mark Duncan/The Associated Press

As one local wag put it: Your move, Cleveland.

The comment referred to the Alvinston Indians, a youth baseball club in Southwestern Ontario that began raising money this past weekend to buy new uniforms and equipment after deciding that its name was offensive to indigenous people.

The move comes amid growing controversy over the moniker and logo used by the Cleveland Indians, the big-league club's namesake, who could clinch a World Series at home on Tuesday while wearing the racial caricature Chief Wahoo on their caps.

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In Brooke-Alvinston, a tight-knit community of 3,000 close to Sarnia, Ont., the ballplayers and their coaches have opted for a moral victory instead.

"We need to be leaders in this kind of space right now," said Andy Triest, president of the Alvinston Minor Ball Association, which represents more than 200 kids ranging in age from three to 17. "I don't know so much whether the logo offends me, but it for sure offends others. And if it offends anyone, we can do better."

The club has used the Indians name on and off for about 60 years, but members of the board that governs the association found themselves having misgivings recently as the major-league club drew sharp criticism from indigenous activists in Canada and the United States, along with a swelling chorus of fans and sportswriters.

Although opinion over the name is mixed south of the border, where the name "Indian" has been re-appropriated by some indigenous people, the Chief Wahoo logo has dogged the team throughout its surprise run this year to within one win of the franchise's first World Series since 1948.

Despite vows earlier this year from team management to phase in a plain "C" logo, the Indians have worn their Chief Wahoo caps for every postseason game. That has sparked outrage and protests, including an effort by Canadian activist and architect Douglas Cardinal to get an injunction against the team that would have prevented the Indians from wearing the grinning, red-faced visage while playing in Toronto during the American League Championship Series against the Blue Jays.

The wave of public pressure "maybe provided us with a nudge to really attack this campaign," said Dan Cumming, a coach, parent and board member for the Alvinston club. "We're trying to send a message to the pros that if they're not willing to do it, we Little Leaguers will."

To turn that principle into action, the association is trying to raise $29,000 to buy new uniforms, equipment, and signage with a new name. (They had reached more than $8,000 by Monday evening.) The club may opt for a handle inspired by local honey producers: The Buzz. The Ambassadors and The Junior Jays have also been floated as possible replacement names.

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Whatever Alvinston decides, it is likely to reconcile the club with some of its First Nation competitors and neighbours. Cumming said he has spoken to members of the nearby Kettle and Stony Point First Nation, and "for the most part, they would prefer that we didn't use that name and that logo." (Community leaders did not respond to requests for comment.)

Cardinal, who filed the injunction against the major-league Indians, said he was impressed by the club's gesture. "My goodness, young people are in many ways more sensitive than adults sometimes," he said. "That shows a degree of caring. And we need to care more for each other in this society."

Local reaction to the name change effort has also been "overwhelmingly positive," said Cumming. "There have been some negative comments, but they've been outweighed 100 to one."

The young players have been among the biggest cheerleaders of the initiative.

"They all certainly seem to understand about respect much more than maybe I would have as a kid," Cumming said.

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About the Author

Eric Andrew-Gee has covered national news for the Globe and Mail since 2015. He previously worked at the Toronto Star, where he was a reporter, and Maisonneuve Magazine, where he was an editor. Eric won the 2015 Goff Penny Award for Canada’s top newspaper journalist under 25. His work has also been nominated for two National Magazine Awards. More


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