TORONTO — A Toronto-area man who filed a human rights complaint against an Ontario city in an effort to prevent local hockey teams from using indigenous names and symbols said Monday that he doesn't want his children to grow up feeling ashamed of their heritage.
Brad Gallant, a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation, brought his complaint against the City of Mississauga, saying it should not provide funding to teams with racially insensitive names and logos, like the Mississauga Chiefs or Lorne Park Ojibwa.
He also wants the city to remove banners featuring the teams' names and logos from municipal buildings, arguing they contribute to a harmful and discriminatory environment.
Gallant's case came before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario on Monday, where he argued the team names and logos demonstrate institutional racism.
"The logos perpetuate racism against indigenous people that is more pervasive than most people really understand," he told the tribunal, calling the images caricatures meant to suggest inferiority.
That, in turn, shapes how indigenous people are viewed in society — and how they see themselves, Gallant said.
Gallant's lawyer, Jeremiah Raining Bird, said the complaint is largely about "preserving a safe environment for (Gallant's) children, an environment in which they don't feel ashamed and don't have to defend themselves against things they can't control."
Seven teams in the province have racially insensitive names, according to Gallant's complaint, and five of them are in Mississauga.
Gallant argues that allowing the teams to continue using those names and logos amounts to tacit approval, and that institutional racism is to blame.
A lawyer for the City of Mississauga said the teams, not the city, were responsible for choosing names and logos.
Brian Wasyliw said the city also offered to arrange a meeting between Gallant and the teams, but he refused and filed the complaint.
Two of the teams named in Gallant's complaint have already changed their names and logos.
The tribunal heard Monday that the Meadowvale Mohawks were renamed the Hawks and had switched to an alternate logo.
Meanwhile, an executive member of the Lorne Park Clarkson Hockey Association said during a break in the proceedings that the Ojibwa team was renamed Wild as part of a merger and adopted a logo similar to the Minnesota Wild.
Eric Landman said the club was participating in the hearing because it wishes to retain the right to use a heritage patch depicting an indigenous face and headdress on its jerseys.
A representative of the Mississauga Girls Hockey League, which includes the Mississauga Chiefs, the Mississauga Braves and the Mississauga Reps, said they consulted indigenous groups and adjusted team names and logos accordingly.
Stan De Rango said an indigenous person was also on the league executive, and said the imagery was not offensive to her.
The Reps and Braves both use images of an indigenous person wearing a headdress, while the Chiefs use an arrowhead.
Gallant said that while he appreciates the effort to reach out to indigenous groups, one person's approval does not prevent others from finding something offensive.
For a long time, Gallant himself didn't see any harm in such names and logos, but he said his views began to shift in 2014 in light of controversy surrounding the Washington Redskins, an NFL team whose name and logo has been questioned.
He grew to see the names and images as a holdover of colonial attitudes and eventually told his daughters, who are both goalies, they could not play in such teams.
They were disappointed but understood, he said. Still, the teens are constantly exposed to the logos in local arenas and at school, where their peers wear clothes emblazoned with the symbols, he said.
Gallant said he understands the pushback from teams, who see indigenous names and logos as a homage to history.
"They think I'm trying to take away an important part of their lives," he told the tribunal. "But the damage done by the logos... exceeds the benefit of the logos."
This isn't the first time this issue has come up in Ontario.
Just last month, an Ontario judge quashed an activist's bid to prevent the Cleveland Indians from using their team name and "Chief Wahoo" logo when playing the Toronto Blue Jays during a high-stakes playoff game in Toronto.
Gallant's complaint returns to the tribunal Tuesday.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press