The Power of a Pledge

October 14, 2016 at 11:57 am


You may have heard in the news this week that Jerry Howarth, announcer for the Toronto Blue Jays, will not say the team name “Indians” while doing radio play-by-play for the Jays’ upcoming American League championship series. He’ll refer to the opposing baseball team only as “Cleveland.”

Howarth says he stopped using sports team names such as Braves, Indians and Redskins in 1992, after a fan from an Ontario First Nation wrote to him, telling him in a kindly way that the names were offensive. Howarth wrote back, promising to stop using the names, as well as stereotypes such as “powwow on the mound.”

He has kept his pledge ever since – for nearly 25 years – showing support for the dignity of Indigenous peoples. I admire Howarth for taking this stand in his professional role. It sends a message that words matter, that Indigenous people are not mascots, and that professional sports organizations should respect Indigenous voices and concerns.

I’m pleased to share with you that at the College of Nursing’s recent Every Child Matters – Orange Shirt Day event, more than 200 people, including many students, staff and faculty from the College of Nursing, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, also made a public commitment to support Indigenous peoples.

On Sept. 30 on the Fort Garry Campus, participants wore bright orange T-shirts for an Awareness Walk to honour the survivors of residential schools and recognize the multi-generational impact of the schools on the health of Indigenous peoples. At the conclusion of the walk, nursing students delivered a pledge to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

The pledge, written by the U of M Nursing Students’ Association and the Canadian Nursing Students’ Association, states that students will practise culturally safe nursing care and will ally “with Indigenous children, youth and their families to create an environment that supports, affirms and celebrates all peoples.”

The pledge was originally inspired by Faculty of Kinesiology & Recreation Management professor Dr. Joannie Halas, whose kin-rec students pledged, as future physical educators, their commitment to be “allies” for Indigenous youth and their families.

Some cynics might argue that pledges like those taken by Howarth and the students are merely symbolic. I recognize that practical support and action are also essential, and the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and the University of Manitoba have undertaken many initiatives to provide tangible assistance.

I do believe it is meaningful to commit ourselves to positive change as individuals. Each of us can choose to be an example of decency. When we make a public promise, we declare our intention to the community. This strengthens our resolve and reminds us that we let others down when we fail to uphold our stated values.

Orange Shirt Day, which started in 2013 and is now an annual, Canada-wide event, grew out of a British Columbia woman’s traumatic childhood memory of residential school authorities stripping her of a new orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. No one should be dehumanized as that child was. And no one should feel degraded by racist stereotypes like the baseball fan who wrote to Jerry Howarth.

A pledge to do better can be simple, but profound.

What is your pledge to be respectful of Indigenous peoples?