FERGUS – The Centre Wellington Minor Lacrosse Association (CWMLA) has decided to drop its Mohawks moniker and logo and will seek input from the public on rebranding the team.
A Jan. 4 press release from the CWMLA notes the Mohawks team name was intended to honour Indigenous peoples, who invented the sport hundreds of years ago.
“While our intent was always pure, we understand now that the Mohawk name and logo may no longer accurately reflect the honourable intention it originally had,” states the release.
“We would not want this to ever be an impediment to someone playing this great game, so it has been decided that an update is in the best interest of all members of the association.”
President Nathan Joyes told the Advertiser the CWMLA executive actually made the decision to change the team name and logo over a year ago, in November 2019.
Since then the decision was kept quiet while the organization worked “behind the scenes” on the logistics of the change, he explained.
That includes the “significant cost” to replace jerseys for over 400 players without passing on the increase to players’ families, Joyes added.
But given the renewed movement against racial inequality in 2020, as well as “additional pressure” the organization received last year, the CWMLA decided to go public with its plan.
“We need to organize this plan now instead of waiting for the money to fall in our lap,” Joyes said, noting the organization has applied for Trillium Foundation funding through the province.
Starting next month, the CWMLA will seek public input for a new name through its website and social media channels, as well as local media outlets, with the goal of announcing a new team name in the spring.
Joyes explained implementation of the new name/logo may not be immediate, as it will take time to design and replace jerseys.
The COVID-19 pandemic could also delay the transition, officials stated.
The Mohawks team name has been discussed, albeit quietly, for years in Centre Wellington, with the community generally divided on the issue.
Joyes said CMLA officials have tried to “educate” people on the origin of the Mohawks team name as a tribute to the sport’s Indigenous founders.
Yet “a number of people” continued to approach the association about the moniker in recent years.
“A lot of the people that are reaching out are … not necessarily members of, but are acting on behalf of the Indigenous community,” Joyes said.
He acknowledged the changes were precipitated by the death of George Floyd in May and the subsequent Black Lives Matter Movement, as well as incidents of racism in lacrosse in recent years, including several involving professional player Lyle Thompson from Onondaga Nation, New York.
Anti-Indigenous racism in lacrosse
Mark Hill, chief of Six Nations of the Grand River, said team names and logos is something Six Nations officials have yet to address in recent discussions with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
On Dec. 1, the commission announced plans to address the issue of anti-Indigenous racism in lacrosse.
Discussions, which to date have been limited to Zoom meetings, are to include officials from Six Nations, the Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) and the Canadian Lacrosse Association.
Asked about the use of Indigenous peoples as names, mascots and logos for sports teams, Hill noted there were some general discussions over a year ago among Six Nations officials about the impact of Indigenous teams themselves using the monikers (for example, the OLA’s senior Six Nations Chiefs).
When it comes to non-Indigenous teams using Indigenous names and imagery, that’s another issue altogether.
“I’d like to get more feedback from the community on it, to be honest,” Hill told the Advertiser.
Elora Mohawks Jr. B team
The CWMLA Mohawks were named, through a voting process, when the Elora and Fergus minor lacrosse associations amalgamated about 10 years ago.
While the moniker was surely influenced by the Elora Jr. B team of the same name, the two organizations did not work together on the name and they remain separate entities.
Founded in the early 1960s, the Jr. B Mohawks started out as the Fergus Thistles. In 1963, the team moved to Guelph and became the Guelph Mohawks. In 1967 the team moved to Elora.
An official with the Elora Mohawks Jr. B team could not be immediately reached for comment.
The process of changing team names and logos that may be perceived as offensive has been ongoing across North America for several years.
Locally, in 2016 Norwell District Secondary School in Palmerston officially changed its athletics team name to Varsity Reds and also altered its logo.
School officials decided to change the “Redmen” team name, originally adopted in 1940 in honour of the McGill University Redmen, in part due to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2008 to investigate the abuse Indigenous children experienced in residential schools.
In 2019 McGill renamed its team the Redbirds.
It appears both the Norwell and McGill teams were originally named after the colours worn by the teams, but Indigenous symbols were later incorporated by both teams and their fans.
The issue of sports organizations using Indigenous monikers/logos was brought to the forefront again in 2020, corresponding with widespread rallies and protests against racial inequality.
In the last few months alone several teams in professional leagues announced plans to change their names, including the Major League Baseball team in Cleveland and the National Football League team in Washington.