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Regional Interests

Winterhawks’ logo change meets with mixed emotions

The Portland Winterhawks rolled out a new logo earlier this month. The image of a hawk replaces the old logo, a racist caricature of a Native American man. Even though Native Americans and others in the community had been pushing for this change for some time, the junior ice hockey team did not acknowledge a reason for the change beyond needing “something that better represented the team.” Paul Lumley is the executive director of the Portland-based Native American Youth and Family Center and led the effort to get rid of the offensive Winterhawks mascot. He says that while the change is welcome, he’s disappointed that the team is not acknowledging the harm caused by the old mascot.

We hear what these kinds of changes mean to Indigenous Americans and tribal nations. We talk with Lumley and hear from Cynthia Connolly, who is on the executive board of the Lake Erie Native American Council and was part of the effort to get Cleveland’s professional baseball team to change its name and logo.

This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.

Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. Two professional sports teams announced big changes this month. They did so in different ways. The higher profile switch was in Cleveland where the major league baseball team, the Indians, will become the Guardians. The team had already scrapped its racist logo. In announcing the change, the team acknowledged that its name and logo have harmed Native communities. Meanwhile, Portland’s minor league hockey team, the Winterhawks, took a different approach. They have scrapped their caricatured logo of an Indian chief for a stern-looking red-tailed hawk. But they said the move was apolitical and they did not acknowledge Indigenous communities. For more on both of these teams’ decisions, I’m joined by Paul Lumley, executive director for the Native American Youth and Family Center; he’s a citizen of the Yakama Nation. And Cynthia Connolly; she’s on the executive board of the Lake Erie Native American Council and a citizen of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. It’s great to have both of you on Think Out Loud.

Paul Lumley: Thanks. Great to be here.

Cynthia Connolly: Hi, thanks for having me.

Miller: Paul, first, can you describe the old Winterhawks logo?

Lumley: Sure. It had sort of a cartoonish-looking Native American man with great big, very colorful feathers on it and it had a nose that was sort of protruding out sticking down. And it was pretty offensive.

Miller: When did you start your campaign? Not you alone, but helped spearheading this campaign to get the Winterhawks to change their logo?

Lumley: Actually it was about a year ago. Other folks before me tried but my portion was about a year ago. A community member approached the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable to ask for some help to retire the logo. And so they asked my organization, the Native American Youth and Family Center, to send a letter to the leadership of Winterhawks and ask them to do so. And so we sent that letter on August 6.

Miller: Can you give us a sense for your own family’s experience with this logo and how it affected your own family?

Lumley: Well, probably four or five years ago, there were three Natives who worked there at the coliseum where the Winterhawks played. And when they were playing, they were all treated terribly. There was discrimination -- overt discrimination -- racist Native slurs, the tomahawk chop in their face.. And one of them was my husband and he had sort of a similar nose in the logo and they used to tease him about it. One of the other Natives there was a younger Native man who had a long braid in the back and they were teasing calling him “chief.” And then there was a young Native girl who was working and they called her this terrible, terrible name, which I won’t even repeat on air. And he would come home and after that, he said he just hated his job. And eventually, all three of them left.

Miller: As part of your campaign, you collected a lot of research on the harm that racist logos can do, have done, particularly to Native youth. Can you give us a sense for what you found and what you presented to the team?

Lumley: We presented information from the American Psychological Society who concluded that and documented, real harm is caused to Native American youth by these kinds of caricatures, these racist logos and how it affects their education. And also that harm is caused in both directions. If you give youth permission to be racist, that also causes harm. It causes harm to them and it causes harm to society. So the harm went in both directions. But it was very clearly documented, the harm directly to Native youth.

Miller: What responses did you get from the team when you presented this?

Lumley: We didn’t get any response. And so finally, about October 12, actually it was on October 12, Indigenous Peoples Day, we launched an online petition to get the Winterhawks’ attention and hopefully they would make a decision that was the correct decision. But they didn’t. And we collected over 4000 signatures and so I was watching what was going on with the Redskins in Washington, D.C., that football team. That is another terrible name, by the way, Redskins, one of the worst. But in any case, I saw what got their attention. It was when their sponsors started to pull out. That’s when they saw the bottom line. And so I approached the same way and we researched the sponsors of the Winterhawks and found 23 of them. We sent them each letters with the over 4000 signatures that we collected. Sent it to them and asked them to withdraw their sponsorship. And then sent every one of those letters to the leadership of the Winterhawks. And within a couple of business days, I got a phone call.

Miller: And what happened with that phone call?

Lumley: Well, it was pretty good; it was with the president and he wanted to learn more. He apologized for not getting back to us. He explained that they had some real-world issues they were dealing with. The pandemic has affected everybody, including them. So they’ve lost quite a bit of revenue without having games and just struggling with working in the pandemic environment. But he said that he personally knew this had to change a long time ago but they just never got around to it. So we had a couple of meetings that were actually pretty productive.

Miller: Paul Lumley, we’re going to hear more of your story and where that went. But, as I mentioned, Cynthia Connolly is with us as well, on the executive board of the Lake Erie Native American Council. My understanding, Cynthia Connolly, is you’re also part of the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition. What kinds of work did you do with the coalition with the Cleveland baseball team around their dropping their logo and then, as they announced recently, their plans to change their name?

Connolly: Yeah. So the Cleveland Indigenous Coalition was formed actually last summer, shortly after the city of Cleveland declared racism a public health crisis. We thought, as a community, there is about four Native organizations in northeast Ohio -- Native-led as well -- that serve our communities. We saw this legislation passed and thought, wow, if the city of Cleveland is serious about tackling racism, a very quick way to start is sitting at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. This has been a 60-year fight for our community. The city of Cleveland is actually a relocation city. If your listeners are unfamiliar with that, that’s a federal policy that relocated Native Americans from reservations into select cities in the United States. And Cleveland was one of them. It was chosen specifically because of its distance from reservations. There are actually no federally recognized tribes in the state. So it seemed like a “good place” to put Native Americans to assimilate them into mainstream society and lessen their federal responsibility, trust responsibility, to tribal nations. So we actually have a significant population here in Cleveland. And, since the arrival of some of those first folks on relocation, this has been an issue, spanning four generations now. When we saw this legislation passed, we thought you can’t ignore the fact that we have had this racist team name and mascot in the city and then at the same time try and champion racial equity and justice on the other. So we came together in this coalition and actually created a sign-on letter, which we got the backing of over 100 businesses and organizations in Cleveland -- including some really large, you know, ice cream shops and bike shops and six state senators -- to really back our call. To us, this was a form of almost power building and really making sure that the team and the city couldn’t ignore us for another six decades. And it was quite effective. We were able to flex our networks and were able to get the team’s attention to start those initial conversations.

Miller: What were those conversations like? And in particular, did you feel like Native concerns and Native voices were actually being listened to and paid attention to?

Connolly: Yes. So I would say what is happening in Cleveland could absolutely be an amazing case study for the rest of this country to pay very close attention to. There are nearly 200 schools in Ohio, still, with Native mascots and over 1000 or 2000, I don’t have the exact number, nationwide that could really take a leaf out of this book. It’s a perfect example that shows that it is possible to take steps towards change. When a group stops and genuinely listens to Indigenous people, when they consider the research, and hears our stories, this is the outcome you’ll get. That if you truly care about the promotion of racial equity and justice and inclusion in your community, you cannot have these mascots coincide.

Miller: There was no mention of the old name or the logo in the splashy video announcement made recently with Tom Hanks narrating it. How do you feel the team did in terms of acknowledging the harm that they caused, in other ways if not in that video?

Connolly: So I think the important thing here is to make sure that.. One of our biggest problems with this mascot, outside of being overtly racist and offensive, is that it contributes to the erasure of our people. When we’re talking about how we’re portrayed in mainstream society, about it being us always in the past, feathers and leather; we’re never really portrayed as your neighbors, your coworkers and classmates. That eraser and invisibility is one of the modern forms of racism that our community is facing today. It’s really exacerbated here in Ohio and in Cleveland because there are no tribes here. That predominant thought of who we are as a people is just always this historical character. And so by really removing the name, pushing forward to a new future, embracing the Guardians, that is removing that barrier for our community, that barrier of the Indians, of that stereotype that we constantly had to jump in Cleveland for over 60 years. For our community, this is honestly the first time that we’re going to have control of our identity and we have control over who we want to define ourselves as. Almost like a coming out; like, hi, we’re back, we’re here, this is us, we’re still here and this is how we want to be acknowledged. It has been the most difficult thing for our community for over 60 years. For 60 years it has been tough to be Indigenous in Cleveland. And we’re feeling a breath of fresh air that this is no longer the case anymore; chapter closed.

Miller: We’re talking right now about the Portland Winterhawks and the Cleveland baseball teams’ shifts away from racist mascots. The Cleveland team is obviously changing its name, too. They still, for the rest of the season, are the Cleveland Indians. They’re going to be the Cleveland.. I’m sorry, what are they going to be called again?

Connolly: It’s the Guardians.

Miller: The Guardians, as of the next baseball season. Based on a big statue on a bridge. Right?

Connolly: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It’s [based on], honestly, very iconic sculptures on the Lorain Carnegie Bridge which is right next to the stadium. And it’s really grown a cult following in the city and it’s, I think, a great name for the team.

Miller: So Paul, I want to go back to you because, when we left off with your part of this story, you’d had what seemed like a positive conversation with the then-president of the Winterhawks. What happened after that?

Lumley: Well, as a part of our conversations, I explained to him the relationship that the Seattle Seahawks [team] has with their logo and the Native community, which is a very Native looking logo. And if you go to powwows, you’ll see jewelry that’s beaded with their logo. And I said, if you work with us, we’d be delighted to develop a logo with the Native community and the Winterhawks to have a Native-themed logo. And then I happened to be at a venue here in Portland and saw some Seahawks earrings. So I mailed it to him and with a note that said, “I hope that someday we can get to this space with a very awesome Native-themed logo for the Winterhawks.” And he sent me a card back and said, “Thank you” and he would enjoy to experience that in our future. And then the day after receiving that card, I found out he was no longer with the Winterhawks. At the time we were planning on the Native community being a part of them unveiling their new logo in mid-June. And we heard nothing obviously until the announcement was made on June 12 for them to have a new logo. So they had a big event in mid-July. Since then, I’ve been on every news station, I’ve been in the Portland Mercury and I had an opinion piece in Oregonian and now I’m on your amazing show. And so I think the pressure is getting to them because yesterday I got a phone call from the Winterhawks; they want to develop a relationship with us.

Miller: So you got a call saying we’d like to talk, but you haven’t talked to them yet?

Lumley: I have. We had a conversation yesterday.

Miller: And how did it go?

Lumley: It went pretty good. We’re going to get together and have a cup of coffee and talk about developing a more proactive and productive relationship moving forward. So I think our pressure has helped. I think it was really disappointing to a lot of people that they chose to ignore their own racist history and harm that has been caused on the community for so long because they were more afraid of their fans and how they didn’t want to offend their own fans. When the flip side was so much worse and it would have been just a simple statement for them to make. That this is a new logo. The old one didn’t represent us, and besides, it was harming the Native community. That’s all they had to say, instead of trying to hide it. It makes them come across, at least at the ownership level, makes them come across as racist. And I don’t know if they are not, but they didn’t need to do this.

Miller: We contacted the Winterhawks to ask for a statement about their decision to change the logo. They did not respond to our request. There was an interesting quote in a recent article in the Portland Mercury from the head coach and general manager Mike Johnston. And I should say that he was referencing the fact that the old Winterhawks logo was actually borrowed from, given to the team from the NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks. Mike Johnston was quoted as saying this. “We needed a unique identity, something that better represented the team. That was the sole reason for the change. There was no other issue we needed to consider.” What went through your mind when you saw that quote?

Lumley: I thought that he was representing a lie, either told to him or he was actually lying himself, because I know for a fact, and they know for a fact, that the Native community has hated that logo for a long time and they knew they had to change. This country was in a space, last year and even still to this day, with enormous social change, to address this racial correction that needs to happen, that the Black Lives Matter movement came to a head. They knew they had to change. There’s no question about it.

Miller: Cynthia Connolly, you mentioned earlier something that your coalition put in the press release about the Cleveland name change, noting that there are still nearly 200 K-12 schools in Ohio with Native mascots. How much momentum do you see in Ohio or around the country to change that?

Connolly: We’ve already started seeing the momentum pickup actually, after the Washington football team were changing their name. I had several school boards reach out to me, a couple of alumni with schools that have Native mascots have reached out to me personally, and many others within my network here in Northeast Ohio. It’s definitely changing. And I think what’s different here is, for a very long time the conversation has been about whether or not individual Natives are offended or not. It really hasn’t been elevated to the level of: are Native mascots part of systemic racism and fueling certain types of bias towards Native people. And I believe the Black Lives Matter movement, and a lot of the conversations we’ve been having about race and racism in this country, have really brought that conversation to the forefront of how do mascots and team names start contributing to how we perceive Indigenous people today? The research that we have seen, the growing body of scientific research, is saying that it is harming our community; it’s harming our Native youth. We’re seeing this come out. All of this is starting to be talked about in very serious ways. And I want to comment really quick here too about, not listening to the team or to, was it Paul here, and kind of ignoring the past. To me that seems like the team is trying to just avoid a culture war, by saying it’s not a political thing, but therefore makes it a thing. So I just really want to point out that by not acknowledging what this harm has caused or talking with the team, talking with the community, engaging with the community; to me, that’s just another form of erasure. [It’s] the same type of racial invisibility that we’ve been fighting against for decades. And I really hope that people can see, and take a leaf out of how important it is to really listen and learn and dig into the research. Talk with the national Native orgs. Talk with the local communities. Look at the data. Look at the science. And the conclusion is clear; these mascots simply cannot coexist.

Miller: Cynthia Connelly and Paul Lumley. Thanks very much.

Lumley: You’re welcome.

Connolly: Thank you.

Lumley: Thank you for letting us be here today.

Miller: Cynthia Connolly is on the executive board of the Lake Erie Native American Council and Paul Lumley is the executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center.

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