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Racist Mascots Remind Indigenous People We Aren't Seen As Equal

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Native mascots mock Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Tonight's TSN Monday Night Football will again feature Washington's team and use its nickname, a known racial slur, universally across all its platforms.

Canadian companies will line up to affiliate with the broadcast and organization while ignoring Indigenous protests and the hostile environment the broadcast and the corporate affiliation create for their Indigenous employees and customers. Thank you, CRTC and CHRC.

In August 2016, the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) refused to hear my complaint against the Canadian Broadcast Standards Commission (CBSC). My complaint centered on one fact, that the CBSC discriminated against me when they used the popular conception that mascots honour Indigenous as justification to deny my request that Washington Football broadcasts be classified as containing offensive language.

The CHRC registrar judged that I was only appealing the decision of the CBSC, not complaining about discrimination. But I believe that by citing the importance of context over result, the CBSC made and use erroneous and discriminatory reasoning to ignore my complaint. I wanted the CHRC to instruct the CBSC that the result of the discriminatory event is more important than the intention as the CHRC defines as the legal standard.

Instead, the CHRC declined to give direction to the CBSC and chose to hide behind the cover of jurisdiction. Ultimately, the CHRC's dismissal of my complaint felt patronizing -- like being told I was just another Indigenous person incapable of understanding the complex interpretations of the law rather than an individual trying to defeat the positive image fallacy upon which all defences of native mascots rest: the notion that they honour us.

Native mascots are a lingering reminder that the Indigenous cannot participate in Canadian society equally, nor expect the simplest rights that every Canadian takes for granted.

This ruling cemented my opinion that CHRC is little more than the photo-op of the Canadian judicial system. In Canada, each human rights decision has to be played out race by ethnicity, gender by cross gender, sexuality by religion. Each person has to be examined to verify their acceptance to universal human rights. This forced evaluation period is tantamount to economic exclusion, with those least able to fund their own application for acceptance being left out in the cold.

Canada's Indigenous -- the poorest by economic exclusion, as well as cultural and literal genocide -- suffer far worse than any group provided the protections of human rights. We are mocked constantly. Women have gone missing without investigation by the thousands. We have been forced to the farthest reaches of the continent, evicted, killed, induced to deny our heritage and starved out to make way for Canadian "progress." Native mascots are a lingering reminder that the Indigenous cannot participate in Canadian society equally, nor expect the simplest rights that every Canadian takes for granted.

I want my children and all children to be able to go school, a mall or arena and to watch TV or browse the Internet without institutionally sanctioned or corporate-sponsored racism.

Last month, I made application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal with the support of people in and allies of the Indigenous community over the provincial government's decision to "discourage the use of names that are considered offensive to Indigenous people in organizations funded by the government."

"Discourage," while meant to be part of reconciliation, defines the second-class human rights protections for the Indigenous.

Government commitment to only "discourage" actually provides room for the continuation of the discrimination against Indigenous people. It opens the possibility of the government ignoring infractions against their existing laws and creates room for discriminatory mascots to continue in schools. I want to force the government to enforce the Human Rights Code of Ontario and the Safe Schools Act to prevent discrimination, and I want all third-party native mascots and native mascot paraphernalia to be banned at Ontario schools.

washington redskins fans
Washington fans watch their team during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014. (Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Since I have taken the City of Mississauga to the HRTO over their funding of native-mascot teams, my daughters continue in Mississauga schools. I have made sure to publicize my progress to both encourage other Indigenous to join in and to get non-Indigenous to move towards change. My oldest daughter has had many conversations about the nature of mascots with her school peers. Many kids understand the discriminatory nature of the mascots, while others disagree with my daughter and argue that she should not be offended.

Last year, she played Mount Carmel Crusaders girls' hockey (yes, Crusaders in a heavily Muslim neighbourhood). Most of the girls play with the Mississauga Chiefs. They wear sweat pants, T-shirts, flip flops, hats, jackets, sweaters, hockey bags and hockey equipment that all feature the Chiefs' logo. They know my daughter finds this offensive. Their coach and principal know that she finds it offensive, and that the HRCO has implied that is discrimination. Yet, without ministry direction, kids continued to sport native mascot wear at school on a daily basis.

Despite the good work by the Lorne Park Hockey Association and the Peel District School Board, discouraging is not enough to stop the hostile public environments for Indigenous experience. Discouraging is a half commitment to the law and embodies the government's intention to not fully protect Indigenous people.

I want my daughter to feel comfortable asking a teacher to get a student to remove native mascot apparel and to have the confidence to express her anger at cultural discrimination with the expectation that she will be heard. School is where my children's friends are free to dispute and seek relief for any anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-special needs, anti-ethnic attack, yet she is not free to dispute another child wearing a Redsk!ns hat. She is therefore unable to attend any Ontario School in a truly safe or welcoming school environment.

My family is fortunate -- this offence is trivial compared to the hardships imposed on the Indigenous that reside in traditionally native areas in the province. But as I learn more about the struggles of my fellow Indigenous, I am sure that mascots teach non-Indigenous that it is OK to treat Indigenous as less-than.


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