03/31/2014 05:38 EDT | Updated 05/31/2014 05:59 EDT

RedBlacks, Redskins and Blackface

The National Capital Region will soon welcome a new CFL football club. This will be the third time the team rises from its ashes: the Ottawa Rough Riders went bankrupt in 1996, and again in 2006 under the Renegades moniker. At the time, Franco-Ontarian football fans (and those in nearby Gatineau, QC) expected a club in financial trouble would make efforts to reach as many supporters as possible, including 250,000 Francophones in the region. Fat chance. The Renegades even failed to include French on their official website.

It was handled so poorly that the English media is begging the new football team's management to adopt the bilingual cachet which distinguishes the Outaouais.

One of the greatest blunders the Renegades made was not marketing the team in Quebec -- across the Rideau Canal and only five minutes from our stadium! In the off-season, I would work in elementary schools in Gatineau/Hull, QC. Montreal Alouettes players used to travel more than two hours to visit these schools, while Renegades players were sitting on their couches only steps away.

Gatineau residents aren't fooled, of course. This uncharacteristic outreach is but a symptom of capitalism rather than a show of interest in the local linguistic minority. Still, recognizing Francophone citizens and the contribution they can make to the sports club's fiscal health represents progress.

In the spirit of cultural openness, perhaps, the RedBlacks choose a lumberjack, cherished symbol of Ottawa Valley loggers, as their new mascot. His name was unveiled with great pomp: Joe Mufferaw.

Apparently the CLF clique discovered the story of the mythical French-Canadian Joseph Montferrand, and they sought to "pay tribute" to the giant of rivers. In colonial times, Jos Montferrand fought morally and literally against Anglophones (especially against the English, Irish and Scottish gangs). The RedBlacks selected the bastardized version of the Québec-born hero's appellation -- a distorted rendering of "Montferrand" popularized by Stompin' Tom in 1970. At the same time, businessmen announced the publication of children's books bearing the image of "Big Joe Mufferaw" ...all too keen strip the folk hero's Francophone identity for future generations of Ottawans.


It goes without saying that Francophone leaders were not amused.

The ensuing script is predictable to those who have seen the Washington Redskins' owners' playbook. Anglophone spokespersons denigrate "French fanatics" who are "never happy." Or they're nothing more than "attention-seeking" sh*t-disturbers. You see, Franco-Ontarians just don't understand the meaning of "Big Joe Mufferaw." The whitewashed-name change is a cultural compliment... an homage, if you will.

Quebecers such as Gilles Vigneault (whose Jos Monferrand song predates Stompin' Tom's by a decade) and Francophone community leaders do not know their own history: it is for English-Canadians to rewrite it in their image. For example, a 2012 Ottawa Sun article introducing the legend makes no mention of Mufferaw's defense of his French heritage. If we follow the screenplay, the Redblacks will probably peg a colonized Francophone to defendhis meal ticket his monarch's right to trample on other people's historical symbols.

Liberal translation: Appropriating historical symbols of others is a colonizer behaviour which has no place in the 21st century.

Instead of wielding a tired, old refrain which mixes victimization and recrimination, hypersensitive minorities ought to rejoice...and at the same time welcome this gesture of Anglophone openness, n'est-ce pas? This was the advice offered by the Québec establishment and their Uncle Tom to defend the use of blackface, a folkloric symbol for slave descendants, on the state broadcaster's airwaves.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander?

If anything, this unfortunate episode should remind all of us, especially French-Canadians, that respect for minorities merits integral reciprocity.


Blackface in Quebec