Brandon Burley felt his chest tighten as news spread that Washington’s National Football League team is going to change its controversial name.
The mayor of Morden, Man. thinks it’s the right decision, but also recognizes what it means for his rural Manitoba community.
“I’m going to be the mayor of the last city in North America to have this name,” Burley said Monday.
He let out a deep sigh and added: “What a distinction to have, right?”
The senior hockey team in the small city of about 10,000 in southern Manitoba is named the Morden Redskins.
The name was chosen about 25 years ago and accompanies a logo of a stereotypical Indigenous man with four feathers in his hair, a replica of the controversial logo of the Chicago Blackhawks with the National Hockey League.
On Monday, Washington’s NFL franchise has officially dropped its “Redskins” name and logo amid mounting pressure to move on from a word that is also used as a racist slur.
Burley, 38, recently wrote a letter to the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League (SEMHL) team’s leadership requesting the name and logo be changed. He said he would support any associated costs through fundraising efforts and his own personal finances.
“We have a good number of Indigenous folks in our community,” he said. “The time has come and gone when we can continue to offend them with something as simple as a hockey team name.”
Brent Meleck, the team’s general manager, said in an email he is talking to the club’s members about the name and logo.
“This might be a long process, but we are looking at it,” he said.
Sheila North, the former grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and member of the Bunibonibee Cree Nation, said the hockey team’s name is simply not acceptable.
She said Washington’s move to a new name should be an example to the team in Morden.
“I think that now is a really good time for the Morden Redskins to really get on board and modernize themselves and figure out that change is inevitable, and whether they do it now or later, they’re going to always be surrounded by controversy if they don’t,” she told Global News Monday.
“It’s better to just get it over with now because it’s not really honouring what they’re thinking it is.”
Name change voted down in 2015
Hockey is sacrosanct in Morden, the mayor said. A motion to city council in 2015 to change the name failed. At the time, Burley said, he was indifferent.
The vote did lead to significant conversations in the community about the name.
It also prompted Burley to take a deeper look at his own understanding of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people.
He learned a lot more about residential schools, high suicide rates among Indigenous youth, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and the impact of team mascots on Indigenous people.
About four years ago, he was driving through the city’s downtown with his young daughter when she spotted the hockey team’s banner hanging on Main Street. The six-year-old asked: “What’s a Redskin?”
Burley said it felt like his heart dropped in his chest. It became immediately clear to him there was no way to explain the name to his daughter. It was racist.
Burley was elected mayor in 2018 and said he understood that to truly build lasting relationships with Indigenous people in the community and surrounding First Nations, the hockey team name would have to go.
He also said that he knows not everyone understands the harm the mascot can cause. He believes his community is filled with good, kind people who don’t want to perpetuate racist stereotypes.
During the last vote over the hockey team’s name, many supporters used Washington’s continued use of its name as justification, he said.
“Now that the Washington NFL team is changing the name, it really removes the last footing we felt we had on this,” the mayor said.
“I’m asking leaders and members of our community to take a step to do what’s right.”
Global News reached out to SEMHL commissioner who said the league has been in contact with the team, but there are no plans to mandate the Redskins to change their name at this time.
— With files from Brittany Greenslade