Brock Talks returns with discussion of Indigenous mascots

With popular sports teams from Edmonton, Washington and Cleveland reconsidering their Indigenous-themed team names and mascots, the discourse around mascot culture is shifting.

“With every victory comes fallout,” says Jason Black, Fulbright Chair in Transnational Studies with Brock University’s Centre for Canadian Studies. “The rhetoric is amped up and co-mingled with polarization overall.”

As part of the annual Brock Talks speaker series, Black will be giving a free public lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 6 that will examine how the conversation around Indigenous mascots has changed in the context of larger social justice movements. Hosted by the St. Catharines Public Library, the talk will explore mascot culture and the symbols and cultural representations that both precede and underwrite material colonization.

Black’s research tracks the history of mascot culture and coloniality by looking at current examples of how sports teams are responding to the pressure to re-examine their names and mascots.

The rhetoric in favour of Indigenous mascots has become nastier, says Black, and is connected to polarized politics in Canada and the U.S.

“When you see people as caricatures, you can look past things like expired vaccines and residential schools,” says Black.

Understanding what mascot culture has done and the link between the symbolic and material is part of the truth and reconciliation process, he said. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action numbers 87 to 91 address the area of sport and reconciliation.

“The Calls to Action are not a one-off, not a list to cross off,” says Black. “They are an ongoing process.”

Following Black’s presentation, the Brock Talks series will continue Thursday, Oct. 28, when Michelle Vosburgh speaks on “Port Colborne’s Tennessee Avenue and the Humberstone Summer Resort Company: Confronting Myths in Public History.” Vosburgh, an instructor with Brock’s Centre for Canadian Studies and the Department of History, will explore the history and myth of an enclave of large cottages, the Humberstone Club, owned by genteel socialites from Memphis, Tenn., who enjoyed idyllic summers on the Lake Erie shore in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

On Wednesday, Nov. 24, Ann Howey, Associate Professor with the Department of English Language and Literature, will explore the strategies authors use to adapt the figures of the Lady of Shalott and Elaine of Astolat, characters of Arthurian legend. Howey’s talk “Afterlives of the Lady of Shalott: Lively Ladies and Elaines after Tennyson” will examine a range of texts from the 19th century to the present day.

Running since 2012, Brock Talks connects community members with Humanities scholarship at Brock. Six times a year, faculty and grad students in the Faculty share their research and engaging in discussion with the public.

Talks are hosted by the St. Catharines Public Library using Zoom and are free, although pre-registration is required.

More information on the series, including new dates as they are announced, are available on the Brock Talks web page.

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