Hockey fans young and old made sure to make it to the Greenway Auditorium on Wednesday, Nov. 19, to hear Henry Boucha speak about his storied career as a professional hockey player in the 1970s, including his time on the USA Olympic team, making the Minnesotan one of relatively few Native Americans to receive an Olympic medal. He swung through Coleraine as part the tour for his book, “Henry Boucha, Ojibwa, Native American Olympian,” which was published last year.
Being a Native American who is a former professional sports star, particularly one who first played hockey for the Warroad Warriors, Boucha is in a unique position to address the topic of Native American imagery and names for sports mascots. Though most of his talk at Greenway was about his career as a professional athlete, he touched on a recent experience having to do with his former high school, and his thoughts on the Washington Redskins.
Boucha was recently appointed to the position of Vice President of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media. But he ended up in this position in a fairly unorthodox way. Prior to his being on the organization’s board, the Coalition threatened the Warroad Warriors with a lawsuit if they didn’t change their mascot.
“I got a call on a Friday while I was shopping, and it was the superintendent of Warroad Public Schools. He said, ‘Henry, I can’t believe this, but we just got a letter from the National Coalition, and they want us to change our name. Is there any way you can help?’” said Boucha. “And here I had just been at a dinner with them two weeks prior to that. And I had no inclination that this was going to happen.”
Boucha took to social media to share how proud he was of the Warroad Warrior name, extrapolating further how the Warriors got their name, and the local history behind it. He told the story of his great-great-great-grandfather, who was thought dead and was even scalped by Sioux forces before making it back to his people in Warroad, a 40-mile journey that took him three day.
“That’s the type of perseverance and will to live that I’m talking about when I talk about the traditions of the Warroad Warriors,” said Boucha.
His short social media campaign paid off, and he was asked to attend the coalition’s next meeting to discuss the Warrior situation. He was named to the board shortly thereafter, and became vice-president soon after that. The lawsuit was rescinded. This all took place in August of this year.
“That’s the difference between us using and creating our own logo, the Indian Ed. Department in an Indian community, and the stories and the history compared to the Washington Redskins,” said Boucha.
He went on to share the backstory of the “Redskin” name. At one time in this country, there were bounties on the Native American population. People could get $200 if they killed an Indian, and they only needed to bring the scalp of the person they killed in order to receive their reward.
“When they scalped them, their faces ran red with blood, and that’s where the term ‘Redskins’ comes from,” said Boucha. “So you can see the difference between the Warroad Warriors and the Washington Redskins. We’re an Indian community, and we’re proud of our heritage and traditions. Whereas this is a non-native creation over [in Washington, D.C.], and there’s no tribe near by, and it’s probably the most horrific name in sports.”
With his new position with the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, Boucha will continue to bring his unique perspective to the table on the issue of Native Americans as sports mascots and logos.
Henry Boucha’s autobiography is available on Amazon.com. He will also be speaking at the Grand Rapids Area Library on Monday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m.