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Blackhawks remain committed to Native American name, logo despite Cleveland Indians’ change

Chicago-area Native American organizations have expressed varying opinions — some positive, some negative — about the Blackhawks as scrutiny toward Native American team names continues to grow.

Newly named Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz (left), seen here opposite chairman Rocky Wirtz, addressed the team’s name and logo again Thursday.
Chicago Blackhawks Photos

The Blackhawks’ leadership group remains committed to the team’s name and logo despite its frequent scrutiny in 2020.

Newly named CEO Danny Wirtz emphasized that again in a news conference Thursday introducing new president of business operations Jaime Faulkner.

Wirtz’s comments came after Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians announced this week they will drop the ‘‘Indians’’ nickname after the coming season in the wake of protests by Native American groups.

‘‘I respect the decision the Cleveland Indians made to go down that path,’’ Wirtz said. ‘‘But we continue to deepen our commitment to upholding our namesake and our brand.

‘‘[Given] the work we’ve been doing over the last several months in expanding and deepening conversations and partnerships in the Native American community, we continue to feel really positive about the types of work we can do, the ways in which we can be better stewards of the namesake and history and to use our platforms to be educators for our fans and internal teams. [We want to] make sure we provide that reverence and respect.’’

The Hawks’ name and logo, depicting 1800s Sauk tribe leader Black Hawk, has been in the news frequently this year.

After the NFL’s Washington Football Team dropped its former nickname in July, the Hawks released a statement standing by theirs but committing to offer more support for Native Americans.

Later that month, the Hawks banned fans from wearing headdresses at future United Center home games and announced their sponsorship of a new educational wing of the Trickster Cultural Center building in Schaumburg.

TCC first partnered with the Hawks in 2010, and its CEO, Joe Podlasek, said Thursday the relationship has been beneficial. Six to 10 Native American veterans are honored per season at the United Center through one particular program between the organizations.

‘‘We said at the beginning, ‘This is going to take time for cultural education,’ ’’ Podlasek said. ‘‘Now we’re at a point where we can really take off and blossom. We have the trust among each other and the understanding that they are in it for cultural education.’’

That new wing, called ‘‘A Place of Teaching,’’ will be unveiled in a virtual gala Tuesday. It includes artifacts from the Ojibwe, Sauk, Fox and other tribes, an interactive tepee and wigwam, a Native American military timeline and more.

Podlasek credited assistance from the Hawks and the Field Museum for its speedy completion. He also said he supports the Hawks’ name and logo because they encourage that kind of education.

‘‘I am one that takes it team by team, not just lump them all together and say, ‘If it’s a Native image, it’s all wrong,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘The Washington Redskins had to go. The Cleveland Indians had to change. But we work with so many schools who need the cultural education behind why their school was named, and that ties into the same thing with the Blackhawks.

‘‘There’s a wealth of knowledge that’s just been lost, and it needs to be revisited, the stories retold. And then people will understand that it’s not a Hollywood version, it’s the real history.’’

Other Native American organizations, however, feel differently. The American Indian Center, located in Albany Park, formerly partnered with the Hawks but eventually broke off ties, citing their name and logo as the reason. An AIC representative didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

‘‘Going forward, AIC will have no professional ties with the Blackhawks or any other organization that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,’’ it said in a statement last year. ‘‘We see this as necessary to sustain a safe, welcoming environment for members of our community, as well as protecting our cultural identity and traditions.’’

In October, the Hawks statue outside the United Center was covered with paint and messages such as ‘‘land back’’ and ‘‘decolonize.’’ Photos of the incident were distributed on Twitter by an account titled No Native Mascots.