Time’s up for the Creemore Braves
Have you ever noticed the discomfort, denial, and defensiveness that gets triggered when white people are confronted with their racial biases?
We tend to get our hackles up, don’t we? We experience anger, fear, and sometimes we react with just… silence. There is a term for this – “White Fragility” – and it serves only to derail meaningful discussion about social justice problems and ways to solve them. As I have come to learn, racial bias is a spectrum, and we are all on it somewhere. We need to recognize this and reflect on ways to improve our thinking, our choices, and our actions.
I wonder, Creemore… can we engage in meaningful discussion about a social justice issue in our community, or will this letter activate our White Fragility? Because we have a problem… and it is the “Creemore Braves.”
From a white person’s perspective, the word “brave” seems a great attribute for someone to have. On the Creemore Braves Facebook page, the banner declares that “brave” is an adjective that means “possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance.” Sounds good… except the word as it is used in the phrase “Creemore Braves” is a noun.
“Brave” as a noun has been used to refer to Indigenous men in thousands of books, TV shows, movies, and sports teams for a long, long time. So, why are we white people surprised to learn that Indigenous people consider the word “brave” offensive and derogatory when used this way? And, how did the word “brave” become associated with Indigenous men in the first place?
The word “brave” first appeared in the English language in the 1400s. Its origin is the word barabus (barbarous) from Latin, meaning foreign, strange, savagely cruel, exceedingly brutal. Over time, the word linked with the Spanish word bravo—meaning wild, rough, fierce, untamed, savage. So, when white people began referring to Indigenous warriors in North America as “braves” hundreds of years ago, were those meanings in the backs of their minds? I think we know the answer.
The word “braves” used by the Creemore baseball team is offensive because it is a descriptor of Indigenous men as “noble, courageous savages.” This is hurtful in ways that white people have difficulty understanding because we are not on the receiving end. It reduces Indigenous men to cultural stereotypes. The Creemore Braves associates itself to this racial stereotype not only through its name, but through its iconography.
On its helmets, uniform shoulder patches, its website, and its Facebook page you will find their logo of two crossed, red tomahawks. This is an appropriated symbol from a marginalized culture, and in using that motif, we do not honor Indigenous people; we mock them.
The colour of the tomahawks is red which has long been symbolic of blood, but of course, it is symbolic of a skin colour – which brings us to the horribly racist mascot, “Chief Wahoo”.
This notorious, red-skinned mascot with its big nose and leering grin was used by the Cleveland Indians from 1947 to the end of the 2018 season. It has been officially retired by that team (and they are still trying to figure out what to do with their name). “Chief Wahoo” can be found on the Creemore Braves website – on the pennants celebrating their victories over the years. It also appears on the “Home of the Braves” sign in Gowan Memorial Park. (Editor’s Note: The sign has since been removed.)
Perhaps some members of the community are getting angry with me now, their blood beginning to boil with defensiveness—that’s White Fragility activating. Some might also be thinking: Who cares? There are no Indigenous people around here to offend.
You would be wrong. Why? Because it is a sad and sobering fact that many Indigenous people (and their children) choose not to publicly identify due to the discrimination that they will inevitably face if they do.
Some people reading this might think that I am advocating for the erasure of the village’s history or the tearing down of a proud team’s legacy.
I am not.
History is not fixed and carved in stone. It is not forever. History changes with new evidence and facts and which lens you choose to view it. Looking at the team’s name and its iconography now with an informed, 21st Century lens brings the incorrectness of it into sharp focus.
The Simcoe County District School Board encourages its students to acknowledge that we are situated on the traditional land of the Anishnaabeg people and accept the enduring presence of Indigenous, Métis, and Inuit people on this land. Students commit themselves to moving forward in the spirit of reconciliation and respect. They learn about the horrors of the Canadian residential school system and the incalculable pain and destruction it has caused to Indigenous peoples… and then in the summer they go play for a baseball team called the Creemore Braves and wear a uniform with tomahawks on it.
It is time for us as a community to recognize this mistake, take initiative, and fix it. Other communities have done so. In 2017, the Midland Indians (another North Dufferin Baseball League team) recognized that it was time for their team name to go – along with their “Chief Wahoo” mascot. Midland set up a GoFundMe page and by the beginning of the 2018 season they had successfully rebranded to the Midland Mariners and had new uniforms.
Creemore has a rich history to draw upon for rebranding but it will cost money to change the name of the Braves, its logos, its uniform patches, etc. These are things that a community can help solve, but only if it has the collective will to do so – and only when the leadership within the Creemore Braves organization recognizes the problem and chooses to do something about it.
If we do not fix this now, Creemore must acknowledge and understand what the team name, tomahawk logo, and Chief Wahoo says about us – every time they appear on a uniform, in a newspaper, online, or on a sign in a park.
A seismic shift in thinking about racism has occurred and there is a clock ticking now on the Creemore Braves. We can make the change now and turn the rebranding into a positive step forward, or we can look the other way and remain silent, until we finally make the change as one of the very last, disbelieving and defensive communities still clinging to the remnants of its White Fragility.