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Blackhawks ban costume headdresses from team events, United Center

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The team says “these symbols are sacred” and “should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear.”

Stanley Cup Finals - Philadelphia Flyers v Chicago Blackhawks - Game Two Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

The Blackhawks banned fans from wearing headdresses as costumes at team events and home games at the United Center, the team announced Wednesday.

“We have always maintained an expectation that our fans uphold an atmosphere of respect, and after extensive and meaningful conversations with our Native American partners, we have decided to formalize those expectations,” the team said in a statement. “Moving forward, headdresses will be prohibited for fans entering Blackhawks-sanctioned events or the United Center when Blackhawks home games resume. These symbols are sacred, traditionally reserved for leaders who have earned a place of great respect in their Tribe, and should not be generalized or used as a costume or for everyday wear.”

The Blackhawks are part of the NHL’s 24-team postseason. Chicago is scheduled to return to the United Center for home games next season, which is projected to start in December. It’s unclear when fans will be able to attend due to health concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the Blackhawks said they would keep their nickname and Native American logo. The NFL’s Washington football team decided to retire its nickname and the MLB’s Cleveland Indians opened a review of theirs. The Blackhawks, however, decided to keep theirs because it honors Black Hawk, a Native American leader.

“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the Blackhawks said in a statement July 7. “We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations. We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation. Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.”

In 1926, the team’s owner Frederic McLaughlin chose the NHL franchise’s name after serving in World War I in the U.S. Army’s 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division, which was nicknamed the Blackhawk Division after Black Hawk. The personnel in the division were from the Midwest, where Black Hawk defended his tribe.

McLaughlin, however, did not adopt the division’s logo but went with a design by Irene Castle, whom was married to McLaughlin. To learn more about the history on the name and logo, read a story from Scott Powers of The Athletic.

On Wednesday, the Blackhawks detailed how they plan to educate people about Native American culture and contributions, including those by Black Hawk. The team said it will integrate those elements, in part, with an “increased presence within our game presentation, around our arena and across all of the team’s digital channels.”

The Blackhawks said they’re currently working on a “state-of-the-art new wing” at Trickster Cultural Center, the only Native American owned and operated arts institution in the state of Illinois. They’ve also partnered with the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History to create the Chicago Blackhawks Cultural Education Center, which will include Native American artifacts from “their vast collection and integrate a greater use of technology to create an interactive space for students throughout Chicagoland, Northwest Indiana and Southern Wisconsin to visit as part of their core curriculum.”

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