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Paul Lumley’s husband used to dread going to work at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum during Portland Winterhawks’ games. Lumley, the director of Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), recalls his husband, a Native American who worked events at the facility, telling him about the ice hockey teams’ fans who would call him “chief” and crack jokes about him looking just like the Winterhawks’ logo, the profile of a Native American man with a painted face and colorful feathers in his black hair.
“It was humiliating for him,” said Lumley. “He wasn’t the only one, either—there were a few other Natives who worked there who were treated the same. Like they were the mascot.”
Lumley’s husband eventually quit after his complaints to management went unaddressed. But Lumley didn’t forget the pain the experience left on his husband and his colleagues.
Last week, Lumley learned in a news story that the Winterhawks had changed their logo from the racist Native American caricature to a hawk. While Lumley and his husband celebrated the announcement, Lumley said the news left him feeling uncomfortable. That’s because Lumley, who spent the last year advocating to change the logo on behalf of the Native American community, didn’t see any acknowledgement from the Winterhawks’ leadership of the harm that had been perpetuated by the racist mascot.
“It’s an odd space to be in—because it’s a victory, right?” Lumley said. “But I had hoped the process would be an opportunity for the Winterhawks and the Native community to heal, on both sides. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
The Winterhawks change comes amid a movement by a number of national sports teams to replace their racist names or logos in recent years. In 2018, the Cleveland Indians retired the racist caricature called “Chief Wahoo” as their mascot, and are now narrowing in on a new team name. And in 2020, the Washington Football Team axed its racist original name and accompanying logo, and are still working on a replacement. In both cases, the change was spurred by the teams’ intent to repair the decades of harm their past identities did to Indigenous communities.
That intention is much less obvious with the Winterhawks’ makeover. The team’s current leadership said the logo change was rooted in a desire to create a new identity—but not because their past one was offensive.
The way Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston tells it, the change was simply meant to replace a logo that was borrowed from another team. When the Winterhawks formed in 1976, used uniforms were donated by the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks, leading them to adopt their mascot. Johnston said the teams’ identical mascots confused hockey fans.
“We needed a unique identity, something that better represented the team,” said Johnston, who also serves as the Winterhawks’ vice president and general manager. “That was the sole reason for the change. It made a lot of sense to me to define where we’re going and what’s next. There was no other issue we needed to consider.”
Lumley first considered the idea of asking the Winterhawks to change their logo in a meeting with the Portland Indian Leaders Roundtable, a group that represents 24 Native American community organizations in the Portland area. By August 2020, Lumley had penned a letter to Winterhawks management on behalf of the roundtable, formally requesting a meeting to discuss changing the “offensive and harmful” logo. The letter mentioned how the American Psychological Association has determined that the use of American Indian mascots as symbols in sports teams negatively impacts the self-esteem and development of American Indian youth.
“Please take advantage of this opportunity to work proactively with the local Native and Tribal Leadership, as we are optimistic this can be addressed quickly,” the letter reads.
After two months without a response, Lumley tried a different approach: He organized an online petition through NAYA to change the Winterhawks’ logo. After the campaign collected more than 40,000 signatures in two months, Lumley took inspiration from the movement to change the Washington Football Team’s name by zeroing in on the Winterhawks’ bank account.
Members of the roundtable began reaching out to 23 of the Winterhawks’ largest sponsors—from Buffalo Wild Wings to Adidas—to request they pull their support until the team retired its logo. That got the Winterhawks’ attention.
“I had hoped the process would be an opportunity for the Winterhawks and the Native community to heal, on both sides. I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Lumley said he was contacted by the Winterhawks’ then-president Doug Piper in spring 2021. According to Lumley, Piper expressed interest in learning why the logo should be changed.
“We talked about the damage the mascot has had on Native people,” said Lumley, recalling their past conversations. “And how that, every day that they continue to use that mascot, how they are perpetuating harm on the Native community—and children in particular. We talked about how the mascot gives their fan base the permission to discriminate. He really listened.”
According to Lumley, Piper said the team’s owners—who had just purchased the team in December 2020—were on board with changing the logo.
“We were talking about having an unveiling ceremony in June, where members of the Native community could be present to see the new logo,” Lumley said. “It felt like real progress.”
Then, without warning, Lumley learned of Piper’s June 9 resignation through a press release. Lumley’s calls to Piper’s cell phone went unanswered. He never heard from Piper again. According to Lumley, the new Winterhawks owners didn’t respond to his attempts to pick up the conversation where Piper left off. Piper did not respond to the Mercury‘s attempts to contact him for this story.
Like most of the public, Lumley learned of the new logo through a sports column published in the Oregonian on July 12, which made no mention of the original mascot’s racist connotations.
At the official unveiling of the new logo, two days later, no recognition was given to the Indigenous community that pressured the team to overhaul its identity—let alone an apology to those hurt by its offensive legacy.
Lumley considers this erasure.
“It’s an extreme disappointment for us,” he said. “They didn’t have to make a big deal out of it, they just had to acknowledge that the mascot was harmful. That would have been great. But I’m sure they got advice from well-paid consultants who encouraged them to focus on their fan base. I’m happy that the logo is gone, but I’m offended by Winterhawks leadership, because they’re more concerned about the delicate feelings of their fan base than being honest about their history.”
Michael Kramer, the Winterhawks majority owner, said he never got Lumley’s messages after Piper resigned. Kramer told the Mercury there was no plan to include the Native American community in the logo development or reveal.
“It wasn’t our intent to bring in specific groups into that discussion,” Kramer said. “We developed our logo based on our history as a hockey team. It wasn’t about certain people’s feelings.”
Kramer said that he and the other owners believe the team’s success is best measured by its ability to connect with the community.
“With the logo, we were thinking about, ‘What do you need to do for the community to support you, and feel a sense of ownership of the team?’” he said. “‘How do we tell the world that we’re proud to be from Portland?’
Kramer believes the new hawk logo, framed by the outline of Mt. Hood, does just that.
“We developed our logo based on our history as a hockey team. It wasn’t about certain people’s feelings.”
Like Johnston, Kramer stressed that the rebranding had little to do with the critique of the racist mascot, describing the decision as “apolitical.”
Asked how politics would have factored into the decision, Kramer paused. “Maybe ‘apolitical’ is the wrong word,” he said. “We were not trying to make a statement one way or another. There are people that believed it was a bad logo and people that believed it was a great logo.”
Does Kramer himself think the original logo was discriminatory towards Native Americans?
“I believe if people feel that way that that’s a bad thing,” he said.
“Again,” he continued, “we understand that the change is a big deal. We feel like it was a big deal. We’re trying to be good people.”
Lumley wasn’t the only local Native American leader in the fight to change the Winterhawks’ logo. When Laura Johns assumed the role of the city’s Tribal Relations Director in 2017, she said one of the earliest requests from Portland’s Native American community was whether she could influence the Winterhawks’ logo change. Over the past years, Johns has worked with various city commissioners on how the city could move the needle. At one point, Johns said, the city considered adapting the Winterhawks’ lease at the city-owned Veterans Memorial Coliseum to require a logo change.
“Fortunately, it didn’t need to go to that level,” said Johns. “I’m happy to hear that they decided to change the logo. They should be commended for that, it’s not an easy thing to do. I appreciate that they stepped up and heard voices from the Native community.”
Jillene Joseph, the director of the Native Wellness Institute, accompanied Lumley in his past meetings with Piper, where she heard the same promises of collaboration between the Native community and the hockey team being made. But unlike Lumley, Joseph said she’s not upset about the Winterhawks’ decision to back out of the potential partnership.
“I’m not angry or upset as I do not allow exclusion or white supremacy to impact me in that way,” wrote Joseph in an email to the Mercury. “I’m very understanding of how white supremacy plays out—for example, big teams don’t want to be forced to do anything, and especially something as major as a logo change, by Native people. I would guess that they aren’t aware of that or wouldn’t even recognize it as white supremacy because of a powerful force called denial. We recognize this and we keep moving forward, one inch at a time, to help white people see themselves as a part of humanity and not above it.”
Lumley said the door is still open for the Winterhawks to collaborate with Portland’s Native community moving forward. He believes it would be a critical step to heal the decades of harassment and harm directed at Native Portlanders, like his husband, because of the racist icon.
“What’s important to understand is that the logo change is so much more than just a logo,” said Lumley. “It really is a representation of racism, discrimination, privilege. I don’t think the new owners get this. And it’s not our job to make them.”