When I was at the United Nations conference last week, we held a meeting on indigenous issues. I brought up the mascot issue in one of the three questions allotted during the panel, and we discussed current work happening to resolve it. One guest in the room made the comment, “What about Chicago Blackhawks? I don’t ever hear anyone talking about them…”
I replied to her that they are talking, but that doesn’t mean you’ve heard much about it yet. When it comes to these kinds of issues, it’s mostly going to be our voices on social media until it causes a big enough stir to be covered by someone else.
I have also heard many people call the Blackhawks name and logo “one of the tamer ones” – which is true in one sense. It is true in the sense that it’s not intended to be a grotesque caricature with blood red skin, as with the Cleveland mascot, and it’s not a racial slur, as with the Washington team. But it’s still unacceptable to make racial-based mascots of any kind, including indigenous ones. This behavior seemed acceptable in a time when treating all sorts of non-Caucasian groups as inferior was part of normal behavior. It’s been taking a long time to get a voice, but the indigenous opinions far and wide are finally getting a chance to surface in the general public.
But what about the Chicago Blackhawks?
Folks see the mascot, they hear the name, and they ask me – what is Blackhawk? Is that a tribe?
Black Hawk was a Sauk leader who led armies against the United States in present-day Illinois during the Black Hawk War of 1832 – right at the peak of the Removal Era. Sovereign nations were resisting the French invasion taking place. This is evidenced by Black Hawk’s siding with the British previously in an attempt to keep America from invading his peoples’ territories.
Long story short: The US cheated Black Hawk and all of the indigenous peoples in the Illinois area. Black Hawk recognized his people were being cheated – bribed, in fact, to join the US’s side in expansion. The populations were divided between Black Hawk’s side and siding with the United States. Sadly, this was likely part of the strategy and, ironically, this was also the war that gave Abraham Lincoln military experience. Yes, Lincoln did some great things in ending slavery, but he was aggressively racist against indigenous peoples. He wasn’t all that great of a guy, let’s be real.
So what about the Chicago Blackhawks?
Well, the logo is a profile of what the Wiki page calls a “Native head” drawn in the 1920s. We can assume this must be based off of Black Hawk himself, as there is no “Black Hawk tribe”, but either way it’s clear it’s just a stereotypical drawing as usual. Also, Black Hawk was defeated so that the US could settle Illinois, one of the key battles in removing indigenous peoples out of the area during the US genocide/concentration camp campaigns. Doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to make as a hockey logo, regardless of all the obvious problems behind having indigenous mascots in this country.
Tommy Hawk (tomahawk? Sigh) is the hawk that runs around in the games. Sure, that’s somewhat tame for what it could be, and at least the tomahawk is Algonquin in origin, but did they really have to go there? I guess it goes with the whole theme of the thing… Many jerseys and shirts have the crossed tomahawks on the sleeves.
The American Indian Center has been noted as working with the NHL team to educate people on Native history and whatnot. That’s a start, and it’s definitely a positive example. But I still question the ethics behind having any kind of indigenous mascot whatsoever – regardless of how you present it. Studies have shown that negative and positive representations are still stereotypes, still cause damaging effects to the mascoted people, and still generate a platform for non-indigenous people to stereotype, mock, and perpetuate ignorance. It’s a damaging cycle and honestly none of it is necessary.
Which brings me to my main point that I want to expose: The “trail of beers”.
TRAIL OF BEERS
During the demonstration against Cleveland’s mascot/name this April, I got to hear a passionate speech by Anthony Roy of Chicago about all the wrongs of these mascots, including the effect they’re having on the Chicago community. He told us a list of things that happen as a result of people taking the mascot and stereotype way, way, way too far. This is the perfect example of why we have to get rid of these mascots. People don’t even know the harm they’re doing, the prejudice that they’re accepting and finding humor in.
One event, he said, is the “trail of beers”.
The Trail of Tears is the name given to the Cherokee people’s long walk during the US government’s genocide/concentration campaign that resulted in so many indigenous deaths. Today, it has resulted in the current struggles we see in many nations trying to recover their sovereignties. Today it is also, apparently, a source for drinking games for Chicago hockey fans.
I do not know the extent of these games, but I have found two examples on Facebook. One is in Bloomington, Indiana, called “Trail of Beers” on Facebook, and the other is in Dixon, Illinois, called “Blackhawk Trailofbeers”.
Here is what the description for “Trail of Beers” is on Facebook:
About: Celebrating the struggles of America’s native people. A beer for every tear.
Description: Trail of Beers Official Facebook TOB Staff Grand Marshal – Dexter Volx Asst. Grand Marshal – Casey McCune Head Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Apprentice Facepainter – ((OPEN apply now)) Head Photographer – Adam Scheerer Apprentice Photographer – ((OPEN apply now))
Other volunteer positions are available, if you want to help out contact the GM or the Assit. GM
Traditionally the Trail of Beers has been a house crawl format. This year we are trying something new with the Trial of Beers Reservation. It is essentially a block party filled with live music, a slip-n slide, drinking games, other undisclosed activities, and of course copious amounts of beer.
More information is being posted daily. Like the page and be filled in on the TOB lowdown.
Thank you, Your Grand Marshall
Yes, you read that right: Trail of Beers Reservation. And in case you want to know where this Reservation is, they made us a map:
You can also buy t-shirts such as these:
And you can be wasted and classy in the name of all those “tears shed” like these people:
But when we check out the Blackhawks Trailofbeers page for the Dixon event, we see some even worse stereotyping, commentary, and just absolute disgustingness in general. It’s a gathering of parents and locals, all presumably white or other, playing “Indian”. They’ve got chicken feathers, paint, and fake buckskin pieces that they apparently think is what indigenous peoples wear. They have a drum with a buffalo painted on it, beer, and plastic canoes, plastic bows, headbands, and fake jewelry.
I’ll be frank: They look like complete idiots. What’s even worse, they’re contributing to the same things I’m trying to fight, like the sexualizing of indigenous women whose rape, murder, and missing statistics are disproportionately high (and who are disproportionately victimized by white men):
It’s not just these photos, but it’s the disgusting, derogatory comments that are public on Facebook. “Are you two part of the Secsee Tribe? I think so.” (Meaning “sexy”, probably in “Indian” to that, er, goon.) “Pocohantas!” (Oh, yes, the only indigenous woman you can imagine. Stop living in the Disney dreamland already and learn the truth about Pocahontas. Or some actual, notorious indigenous women.)
What’s even worse is these women apparently enjoy whoring out themselves as well as the peoples they’re stereotyping. This attendee to the “annual river trip”, decked with what appears to be a bindi? (she probably thinks we’re actually from India), liked all of the comments on her new profile picture. INCLUDING THE ONE WHERE SHE IS CALLED A SQUAW.
Oh, nooo. I have been called that in real life. This is so not okay. But really, if you want more evidence of peoples’ stupidty and cultural appropriation, just search the hashtag #trailofbeers and you’ll see plenty of “#throwbacks” with “#manifestdestiny” and other disgusting depictions of white people playing “Indian”.
JUST PLEASE EXPLAIN TO ME: Why it is UNACCEPTABLE now to do this to black people? Which totally was NOT the case 100 years ago, when blackface was in actual practice. So WHY are we allowed to “PLAY INDIAN”???
Well, for the same reason we’re allowed to have mascots:
- People don’t actually understand the histories,
- Including the part that gets left out: We’re still here!