Origin of a name: Blackhawks name founded in history, controversy

Found this article from the Chicago Tribune about the history and origins of how the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team got their name. It’s a bit long, but I think it’s worth the read.

Some of American Indian heritage hope playoff push offers teaching moment about Chief Black Hawk

As Chicago’s American Indians see it, the Blackhawks fever gripping the city is accompanied by symptoms of historical amnesia.In all the hoopla, they’re hoping it’s not forgotten that the team name derives from a real-life 19th century chieftain who fought U.S. troops in a gallant but losing effort to recover his ancestors’ lands. Chief Black Hawk’s story, full of drama and pathos, is like the perennial tale of an aging sports hero trying for a comeback, though fighting for far more than a championship cup or ring.

The Blackhawks’ logo never has spawned protests by American Indians like those against the University of Illinois’ dancing Chief Illiniwek or the questionably named Washington Redskins. Still, it’s a touchy issue for those here of American Indian descent.

Cyndee Fox-Starr, whose father played in the 1950s for a local hockey team in full Indian headdress, is rooting for the Hawks but hopes the playoffs will provide a teachable moment.

“Maybe others will see we’re a people, not mascots,” said Fox-Starr, who is of Omaha and Odawa Indian parentage.

Fox-Starr is special events coordinator at the American Indian Center on West Wilson Avenue in Chicago, where it has been a season of mixed emotions. Some patrons and staff are hockey fans. Others who don’t follow the sport are rooting for the home team out of civic pride — but with a tinge of sadness when they see the Indian-head logo on players’ jerseys.

“I’m excited for the franchise,” said Negwes White, 23, a youth worker at the center. “But I don’t think Blackhawks fans have any understanding of our culture.”

Blackhawks management’s policy is not to comment on the issue. But in the team’s clubhouse, the Blackhawk Indian logo is held sacred. No one steps on it, and it’s kept illuminated. A few years ago, former coach Denis Savard backtracked on his use of the phrase “commit to the Indian” when trying to rally the team. But loyal fans repeat it with gusto.

Reached in Oklahoma and Iowa, leaders of the Sac and Fox tribe said they could not comment.

White is of Ojibwa and Navajo parentage and has been fighting stereotyping since his student years at Schurz High School. He wrote a term paper chiding archrival Lane Tech for nicknaming its teams “Indians.” Having learned about his heritage at the Indian Center, he would speak up in class when American Indian history was passed over in silence.

“I was very outspoken,” White said. “I was doing the teaching.”

Even Chicagoans of American Indian descent can be stumped by the question of who Black Hawk was and what he did.

“I don’t know anything about him,” said Alex Figueroa, 13. A member of the Taino tribe, he was shooting baskets with other young American Indians in an alley behind the Indian Center in Uptown. “We didn’t learn about him in school.”

Chief Black Hawk was a leader of the Sac — also spelled Sauk — and Fox. Many tribe members now live on a reservation in Oklahoma, but their forebears were Illinoisans. They planted corn and hunted from villages along the Mississippi River.

In 1832, Black Hawk fought a brief but bloody war with the United States, triggered by the government’s policy of removing American Indians from the path of settlers moving west. Sac and Fox leaders signed over their lands east of the Mississippi, but Black Hawk resented American Indian negotiators sacrificing the tribe’s rights.

So he brought his followers back from Iowa into Illinois to replant their old fields. The territorial governor declared that move an “invasion,” federal troops were brought in and skirmishes were fought in the spring and summer of 1832.

Chief Black Hawk was handicapped by a lack of unity on the American Indian side. He was 65 and feeling his age, as he told a captive he set free with a message for the U.S. commander:

“The Great Spirit has whispered among the treetops in the morning and evening and says that Black Hawk’s days are few, and that he is wanted in the spirit land,” he said. “He is half dead, his arm shakes and is no longer strong, and his feet are slow on the warpath. Tell your chief that Black Hawk meant no harm to the palefaces when he came across the Mississippi, but came peaceably to raise corn for his starving women and children.”

His position hopeless, Black Hawk surrendered, whereupon his captors made him the equivalent of a mascot. He was sent back East where tremendous crowds — the scale of those that now fill sports stadiums — turned out to see the famous chief. Then he did a brief stint in prison.

He then returned to his people in Iowa. In 1838, he was invited to give a Fourth of July address to white settlers at Fort Madison, Iowa.

“I love the Great River,” Black Hawk said. “I have dwelt upon its banks from the time I was an infant. I look upon it now. I shake hands with you, and as is my wish, I hope you are my friends.”

He died a few months later.

American Indians feel that the poignancy of Black Hawk’s story — and myriad like it — is lost when sports teams appropriate their history for logos and mascots. Despite the fact that the University of Illinois was forced to give up the Chief Illiniwek mascot, they still are pained by it.

“That was like going to a costume store and buying something off a rack,” said Ben Marquez, 30, a youth group worker at the Indian Center, who is of Hopi, Navajo and Apache heritage. “It was cartoonish.”

Even though the Blackhawks’ use of the logo has been more subtle, it troubles Fox-Starr when she sees fans wearing war bonnets. She is bothered when crowds at sporting events clap in Indian rhythms, which have a religious significance.

“Each drumbeat signifies a heartbeat,” she said.

A top priority for the Indian Center is building self-esteem among young American Indians, said director Joseph Podlasek, who is Ojibwa and Polish.

“It’s not good for kids to see their culture parodied,” he said.

Fox-Starr’s father suffered indignities common to American Indian youths in the U.S. and Canada. But he did pass on a great love for hockey — a game he, like most Canadians, started playing as soon as he could stand up on skates. After school, he came to the U.S. and joined other Canadian Indians on a semipro hockey team based in Elgin in the 1950s.

Fox-Starr has pictures of her father and his teammates wearing outsize war bonnets like Chief Illiniwek’s.

“It was like the Harlem Globetrotters,” she said. “Indians were supposed to be funny.”

Fox-Starr joins many other Chicagoans in wishing the Blackhawks well — adding a small wish of her own. When they lift the Stanley Cup, could they take a moment to honor an American Indian hero?

“Like maybe,” she said, “Chief Black Hawk?”

via chicagotribune.com

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  • Jenshehehe

    Great piece

  • Dirk

    Nice piece, insightful reading.

  • Scottie Ash Seed

    Hey, I am Scottie Ashtree seed, Chicagoland’s proud local historian who passionately researched our regions ancient local ecology, in order to comprehend so much more. Long ago the true translation of that proud iconic Sack/Fox tribe warrior which today represents Chicago’s Wirtz Sport franchise was shockingly misinterpreted into a blunderous mistake. The natural Native range of our American Black Hawk raptor species is found much farther South! And our Prairie Midwest’s bird species the “American Crow” truly was intended to represent the famous 1832 war warriors traditional earned name. Wow, the Chicago Black Crows NHL Hockey team battling upon our Cities West side. This Scientific realized fact blew me away when first theorized. Just like when learning Chicago was not named after our smelly ramp Onion, but instead during the early French explorer era from a local learned Indian chief who traveled to Europe and met with King. After, Chief Chicago returned, sent back with unique gifts like a tree he quickly planted, woven material from far East, etc. Unfortunately along with the American Ash tree species, the American Crow has suffered a great “Extant” caused by Mosquito’s carrying Lime disease over last several years. OK, last fact. A group of these Black birds are called “A Murder of Crows”!

  • wally gunzo

    I thought fred Mclaughlin named the team for his ww 1 battalion after he purchased team from tack Hardwick in 26. actually I know he did. I know none of this is on a Google search so I guess go with chief Blackhawk. good luck on your midterms

  • wally gunzo

    next u will tell me the mascot is a bird not an Indian lololololol. duh