The Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Neepawa Natives have begun the search for a new name and logo for the 2021-22 season. On Tuesday evening, the team’s executive staff met for a conversation surrounding the current state of affairs, with a focus on the way the team and community are portrayed, in reference to many factors, primarily the team’s name.
“The board of directors made the decision last night to discontinue the use of the word ‘Natives’ in the team’s name,” head coach and general manager Ken Pearson told Game On Magazine Wednesday. “This change will be effective for the 2021-22 season. The club will begin the process of looking for a new name and logo immediately. The name will effectively be removed for the 2021-22 season.”
This decision comes on the heels of various other sporting teams across the professional realm announcing further investigation into potentially racist monikers. On Tuesday the Edmonton CFL Franchise announced that it would no longer be using its former nickname ‘Eskimos’ going forward. Earlier, the former Washington Redskins announced the beginning of a search for a new team name. The Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Kansas City Chiefs have yet to make formal announcement, while the Chicago Blackhawks announced that they will be standing behind their team’s name.
In mid-July, Morden’s mayor Brandon Burley wrote to the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League in an effort to request a formal name and logo change for the league’s Morden Redskins – a moniker in which he (amongst many other locals and indigenous leaders) finds disrespectful. Hockey Manitoba has considered implementing a change that would mandate all teams bearing nicknames of racial background to be given a one-time name change.
“I would say that some of the recent findings would push towards the change of the name,” Pearson added. “A lot of our people within the organization and sponsors and supporters are deeply committed to keeping the team name. But do we also have to understand that others are uncompfortable with it. So in order to keep up with it, or to ‘keep up with the times’ per se, for us to then continue along, everyone agrees that we’ve been behind this team for so long, we’d just hope that you continue supporting our team.”
The ‘Neepawa Natives’ name was originally coined in 1963, taking over the ‘Intermediates’ namesake, with a fresh look, highlighting the community and roots to the Cree heritage found in the local geography. With length of word and alliteration also serving as factors, the name stood through the 60s and 70s, before the new MJHL franchise took on the name upon team formation.
MJHL commissioner Kevin Saurette made it clear that the 11-team league is on the same page of this conversation, and is behind the independent decision made in Neepawa one hundred percent.
“The Manitoba Junior Hockey League fully supports the decision made by the Neepawa Board of Directors to discontinue with their current name, and will assist the organization in any way possible to help them during this process,” Saurette told Game On.
Neepawa finished the 2019-20 regular season with a disappointing 13-43-4 record for 30 points in 60 games, failing to make the postseason for the third-straight year. Pearson, originally of Neepawa, was brought on board in March of 2019, having earlier played for the franchise from 1991-94.
When asked what to tell those long-time supporters of the Neepawa junior A hockey club’s upcoming name change, Pearson said rather simply, “Embrace the change. That’s really all you need to do. Everything changes. The world on a daily basis has been changing. You either embrace it or you are left behind. Embrace the change.”