Some of American Indian heritage hope playoff push offers teaching moment about Chief Black Hawk
By Ron Grossman
"Maybe others will see we're a people, not mascots," said Fox-Starr, who is of Omaha and Odawa Indian parentage.
Fox-Starr is special events coordinator at the American Indian Center on West Wilson Avenue in Chicago, where it has been a season of mixed emotions. Some patrons and staff are hockey fans. Others who don't follow the sport are rooting for the home team out of civic pride—but with a tinge of sadness when they see the Indian-head logo on players' jerseys.
"I'm excited for the franchise," said Negwes White, 23, a youth worker at the center. "But I don't think Blackhawks fans have any understanding of our culture."
Blackhawks management's policy is not to comment on the issue. But in the team's clubhouse, the Blackhawk Indian logo is held sacred. No one steps on it, and it's kept illuminated. A few years ago, former coach Denis Savard backtracked on his use of the phrase "commit to the Indian" when trying to rally the team. But loyal fans repeat it with gusto.
"I don't know anything about him," said Alex Figueroa, 13. A member of the Taino tribe, he was shooting baskets with other young American Indians in an alley behind the Indian Center in Uptown. "We didn't learn about him in school."
"Each drumbeat signifies a heartbeat," she said.
Meanwhile, they don't have a clue about the real Chief Black Hawk. They're in love with a fantasy figure, a cartoon image, and they couldn't care less about real Indians. If a descendant of Black Hawk protested the mascot, they'd tell him to go to hell.
This is pretty much the mascot debate in a nutshell. Mascot supporters cherish their stereotypical notion of Indians as primitive people of the past. Like children and Dudesons, it's all they know about Indians.
In contrast, real Indians are a complete void to them: unknown, invisible, and not worth thinking about. So fans "honor" them by ignoring them. By preferring their romanticized, idealized Indians of yesteryear to the complex, conflicted Indians of today.
For more on the subject, see Team Names and Mascots.
P.S. Black Hawk is another Indian chief immortalized as a killer weapon system--the helicopter immortalized in Black Hawk Down.
Below: The real Black Hawk:
And the fictional one: