Human Rights Court Will Rule On Indians’ Racist Logo

Turns out a human rights court acts faster than MLB when it comes to racism

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Jun 07, 2017 at 1:55 PM ET

The Human Rights Tribunal in Ontario, Canada will hear a case brought by an indigenous activist over the ongoing use by the Cleveland Indians of its racist logo, Chief Wahoo, per the Toronto Star.

The case was originally brought by Douglas Cardinal—an Anishnaabe elder and an architect who provided the original designs for the National Museum of the American Indian—against Rogers Communications Inc., which owns and operates the Blue Jays’ home stadium and televises the team’s games, Major League Baseball, and Cleveland Indians Baseball Company Ltd. prior to the start of the 2016 American League Championship Series. In arguments presented before the Ontario Superior Court, Cardinal sought an injunction which would have barred the Indians from wearing the logo on any and all team gear and removed it from all broadcasts while playing in Canada.

The court ruled in favor of plaintiffs, whose lawyers argued that the logo, while offensive to many, still qualified as a constitutionally-protected expression of free speech, no matter how, “controversial,” as one of the Indians’ attorneys said, it may be.  Any attempt to limit the Indians’ wardrobe would constitute a burdensome act of censorship, they claimed, what with the need to dig up Chief Wahoo-free spring training uniforms, sub out all the pre-recorded imagery that Rogers Communications had planned to use, and only a few hours remaining before the 8:08 pm opening pitch of game one at the time of McEwan’s ruling.

A month ago, Judge Jo-An Pickel swatted down an attempt to have the case dismissed from the Human Rights Council on jurisdictional and other grounds, ruling that Cardinal, as both an indigenous person and a baseball fan that regularly attends games at Rogers Centre, has legal standing.

“As an Indigenous person, I am encouraged that the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has accepted jurisdiction over my complaint and agrees that it can proceed to a hearing,” Cardinal said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the consciousness of genocide and apartheid continues to be fostered by the insensitive use of demeaning and degrading symbols, mocking indigenous peoples. This must cease in order for reconciliation to have any meaning and substance.”

If Cardinal prevails and the Indians are forced to wear a slightly different set of clothing, at least while playing in Toronto, could this be the nudge that convinces Cleveland to finally ditch its 70-year-old totem to bigotry? The team and MLB have been providing faint assurances that this is the long-term plan for a while now. At the start of the 2016 season, owner Charles Dolan said that while the block-C would be used as the primary logo, Chief Wahoo remains, “part of our history and legacy,” though he was able to admit, “We do have empathy for those who take issue with it.”

When the Indians reached the World Series, the issue came to a head again, with commissioner Rob Manfred promising that a conversation between Dolan and MLB about Chief Wahoo would occur in the near future. In May, Dolan promised that Chief Wahoo’s fate would be determined in a few years, while an MLB spokesman told the New York Times in Apri, “We have specific steps in an identified process and are making progress,’’ towards some kind of a resolution.

But as long as the Indians and MLB seem dead-set on appeasing the same group of angry racists – the kind that invariably show up at Indians games dressed in faux-Native American garb and/or redface while delighting in lobbing racist taunts and beer bottles at activists – with a repetition of the same tired, neither-here-nor-there talking points about “history” and “tradition” and an utter willingness to Hear Both Sides, it’s clear that it’s going to take a protracted legal battle or a serious dent in the team’s merchandising wallet to force any real change.

Chief Wahoo’s continued existence proves that vast swaths of Americans don’t take the bigotry directed at indigenous peoples seriously. Hopefully a judge in Canada will.