Warroad Warriors Rededicated

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web-warroad 1.jpgIn its 30

year quest to influence teams to change their names, mascots and

logos from those that are offense to Native Americans, the National

Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media is making strides.

Thousands of high schools and colleges across the country have felt

the pressure and given up names which encourage stereotyping of

indigenous people.

NCARSM,

which is based in Minneapolis, still has work to do before the

thousands of offensive team names still in use are relegated to the

annals of history. The organization’s current strategy is to go

after the National Football League’s Washington team, a nationally

prominent team whose name is a racial slur and whose tradition of

mocking Native American people is seen as particularly vile.

“We

believe that when the Washington team changes, everyone else will

follow,” NCARSM board member Clyde Bellecourt said. He also said

the Washington team has a tradition of upholding institutional racism

that goes far beyond the current disagreement over its name. The team

was last in the National Football League to allow – in October of

1961 – non-white players on its roster, a move that prompted their

former supporters, the American Nazi Party, to protest outside RFK

Stadium.

But as

NCARSM focused its efforts on organizing a major rally against the

Washington team (who play the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium

on the campus of the University of Minnesota Nov. 2) one of its board

members, the organization alleges, Alan Yelsey – without the

knowledge or blessing of others within the organization – was

mailing threatening letters to schools with disparaging team names.

Yelsey and NCARSM have since parted ways.

Warroad

Public Schools superintendent Craig Oftedahl was among those who

received the rogue letters, which reportedly threatened to sue the

district if it failed to give up its Warriors team name and logo.

Oftedahl’s first impulse was to call Henry Boucha, a prominent

local Ojibwe community leader and former member of the Minnesota

North Stars and U.S. Olympic hockey teams.

“I was

surprised as hell when Craig called me,” Boucha said. “I thought

we were in the clear regarding the name change issue. We had already

gone through this with the Coalition back in 1989.”

In 1989,

after two years of discussion, Warroad Public Schools settled

out-of-court with NCARSM, then led by Clyde Bellecourt’s

now-deceased older brother Vernon Bellecourt. At the time Warroad

agreed not to use an Indian mascot and to reaffirm with the local

Ojibwe community its support of the Warriors name and logo.

“NCARSM

dropped its objections after it was verified that the Indian

community, the Indian Parent Committee and our Indian Education

Department all supported the use of the Warriors,” Boucha said.

“The name comes directly from our Ojibwe history. Our warriors

secured Warroad and the Lake of the Woods area after a long war with

the Dakota. The logo was designed by our own Indian people.”

Warroad is

within the territory of the Red Lake Nation. The school district also

serves Native students with affiliations to Leech Lake, White Earth,

Bois Forte and two Canadian reserves – Northwest Angle Band 33 and

Northwest Angle Band 37.

After the

NCARSM Facebook page received a flood of angry messages from Warroad

residents and hockey fans around the country, the organization

invited Boucha to address its board.

Warroad is

well known in hockey circles for the disproportionate number of

Olympians it has produced. The small city on Lake of the Woods near

the Canadian Border (population 1,800) has sent seven hockey players

to the Olympic Games, including Boucha, Bill Christian, Dave

Christian, Gordon Christian, Roger Christian, Gisele Marvin and T.J

Oshie.

“I

educated the Coalition on the history of Warroad and how proud we are

of the heritage we have there. Most of these people weren’t around

in 1989 and had no idea we’d been through all of this before,”

Boucha said. web-warroad 2.jpg

Boucha

told the story of Ay-Ash-A-Wash, the chief of Warroad during the heat

of the war for the Lake of the Woods region. Ay-Ash-A-Wash was in a

battle at Two Rivers, 40 miles west of Warroad, when he was badly

wounded and played dead. One of the Dakota warriors, according to the

oral history, scalped him and left him for dead.

Ay-Ash-A-Wash

managed to crawl away and made his way back to Warroad. Most thought

he had been lost in battle and there was a great outpouring of joy

when he returned to his people. Years later, Ay-Ash-A-Wash’s son

Na-May-Poke, a wise man who valued education, donated land from his

allotment on the north side of Warroad for the community’s first

school. He asked that the school’s teams be called the Warriors in

honor of Ojibwe warriors who fell in battles past.

NCARSM

president David Glass apologized to Boucha for the errant letter and

extended an invitation for Boucha to join its board, which he

accepted. The former hockey great and current film and television

producer said he hopes to utilize his position “to do as much good

as possible.”

Boucha

arranged for the NCARSM board to visit Warroad where, on Oc. 1, they

participated in a pipe ceremony and celebration to rededicate the

Warriors name and logo.

Hundreds

of school children, parents, teachers and community members attended

events at Warroad High School and Warroad Gardens & Olympic Arena

where they sang the school’s fight song and clapped along to a drum

performance of honoring songs by Midnight Express. Speakers at the

events included NCARSM board members Norma Renville, David Glass,

Clyde Bellecourt, Henry Boucha, American Indian Movement Grand

Governing Council Chairman Keith Lussier and Warroad Public Schools

superintendent Craig Oftedahl.

web-warroad 3.jpgNCARSM

members apologized to the community and encouraged its young people

to uphold, through positive action and behavior, the time-honored

Warrior tradition they represent.

 Gabe

Shaugabay, a member of the White Earth Nation, and a junior hockey

player at Warroad High School, said he was crushed when he first

heard the Warriors name might have to be changed. After the

rededication ceremony, the 17 year-old defenseman was elated.

“My

whole life I had watched my older cousins and then my step-brother,

play for the Warriors,” Shaugabay said. “I always dreamed of

being a Warrior too when my time came. Just then they threatened to

take it away from us. When I heard that we got to keep our name I was

just so happy. As a Native person it makes me really proud to

represent our school as a member of the Warroad Warriors hockey

team.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Warroad Ojibwe community leader and former Olympian/Minnesota North Star Henry Boucha stands over the Midnight Express drum as they play an honor song celebrating the rededication of the Warroad Warriors team name. (Photo by Jon Lurie) 

(Middle) Warroad powwow royalty joined over 1000 members of the northern Minnesota community in rededicating the Warroad Warriors name and logo. (Photo by Jon Lurie) 

(Above) Frank Marvin, past president of Marvin Windows and Doors, Warroad’s largest employer, greets NCARSM board member Norma Renville upon arrival in the city. The Marvin company provided its private airplane for the Coalition’s members’ flight from the Twin Cities. Frank Marvin pledged a generous donation to aid the Coalition’s efforts to convince Washington’s NFL team to change its name. (Photo by Jon Lurie)