Just days after Oregon joined Wisconsin in banning American Indian mascots in its schools, a North American Hockey League club has inexplicably gone in the opposite direction. On May 23 the Johnstown Sports Partnership announced that the junior league squad it acquired and is relocating to western Pennsylvania would be called the Johnstown Tomahawks. The team’s logo features an American Indian head over crossed tomahawks, using a red, white and blue color scheme.
Formerly the Alaska Avalanche, the Johnstown Tomahawks will begin play this fall in Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s Cambria County War Memorial Arena. The city of Johnstown has a long hockey history and is famous for having been the shooting location for the classic 1977 film Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman. The city, which is about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh, has been without a hockey team for two years, since the East Coast Hockey League’s Johnstown Chiefs moved to Greenville, South Carolina. It was the minor league Johnstown Jets that inspired the fictional Charlestown Chiefs in Slap Shot.
According to a press release issued by the club, the team logo and name’s color scheme of red, white and blue was created as a tribute to the American war veterans honored and commemorated throughout the War Memorial Arena for their sacrifices and service to our country. The “Tomahawks” nickname was chosen to symbolize the new team’s fighting spirit, exciting style of play and good sportsmanship the team and its fans expect from their young players.
There was considerable action taken before the announcement to decide on a new name and logo, and there was a rush to complete the process so that equipment could be ordered for the junior team to be ready for the season to begin in September. On May 3 Jim Bouchard, who is principal owner of the new Johnstown Tomahawks, told The Tribune-Democrat “(The Janesville) Jets are in the league already. We did approach to try to get the Chiefs name back. We can’t get the Chiefs name back because it’s owned by the ECHL.”
Bouchard also said that there was a chance the name would be recognizable to local fans. “Some of the names that are coming out are legacy-type names that the Johnstown folks will be happy with versus some crazy new name,” he said.
Although it’s unknown if Johnstown folks will be happy with the decision, many across Indian country will suggest this new name is a crazy—and disrespectful—choice.