When the Portland Winterhawks came to Oregon in 1976, they were the first Canadian junior hockey league team to locate in the United States.
On Wednesday, July 14, the team made another bold move — one that local advocates hope will become part of a trend away from Native American-linked sports mascots and logos.
The Winterhawks retired their official logo, a Native American headdress crest, replacing it with a new hawk and mountain design. A secondary logo featuring a gold letter "P" and grey crossed hockey sticks was also unveiled Wednesday.
The new logos are the first truly unique crest for Portland, which plays in the Western Hockey League and mean Portland's club will no longer be confused with Chicago's NHL team, the Blackhawks. When the Winterhawks first took to the ice in Portland they wore borrowed Blackhawk jerseys, and the logo has been a mainstay of Winterhawks team products for decades.
Winterhawks co-owner Michael Kramer said Wednesday the new logo will move the hockey club into the future "not with a borrowed jersey or a logo from 45 years ago, but with our own identity."
The Winterhawks play at Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Moda Center, and train at Winterhawks Skating Center in Beaverton.
Former Winterhawks captain Cody Glass, now with the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights, was on hand Wednesday and spoke about how much Portland and the Winterhawks mean to him as one of 45 Hawks' players who have signed NHL contracts over the last decade.
A fresh identity for a new ownership group was the motivation for this change, but the retirement of the Blackhawks logo (which Chicago has used since that NHL club was founded in 1926) was well received by local Native American advocates.
In a group statement from the Five Oaks Museum in Portland, leaders expressed satisfaction after news of the new logo.
"Native people have been advocating for the removal of racist sports logos for decades and Five Oaks Museum celebrates every time people listen and respond to native advocacy," the statement read.
Natalie Welch, a sports management and marketing assistant professor at Linfield University in McMinnville and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, has long advocated for sports teams to ditch Native American symbols. She said she is thrilled the Winterhawks are getting rid of the headdress image.
"The imagery makes Native people a cartoon and not human," Welch said.
Welch, who previously worked at Nike and ad firm Wieden and Kennedy, has written extensively on the subject and pointed to several studies that show Native American mascots have a negative impact on Native Americans, even if they don't realize it.
Teams using Native American nicknames and imagery did not bother her while growing up on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, Welch said. But her perspective changed as she experienced reactions to her "Native-ness" outside the reservation community.
An Atlanta Braves fan, Welch said she wants that baseball franchise to change its name and imagery, along with other teams that still use Native American mascots, including the Chicago Blackhawks.
Welch said she is fine with the Winterhawks name and hopes the team uses this opportunity to build relationships with local tribes.
The process of developing the new branding began shortly after the Winterhawks Sports Group took over as the club's owners on Jan. 1. WSG is led by Kramer and Kerry Preete.
"The Portland Winterhawks are embarking on a new chapter in franchise history, so it is only fitting they do so with a new primary logo design that truly represents Portland, the Pacific Northwest and its great fanbase," WHL Commissioner Ron Robison said in a statement. "The Winterhawks have a long history of success in the Portland market and I am confident their passionate fans will embrace this fresh approach and unique design when the WHL regular season opens in October."
Winterhawks vice president, general manager and head coach Mike Johnston, speaking at the club's unveiling at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, said designers had a lot they needed to accomplish with the new logo. He wanted the new logo to be unique to the Winterhawks and represent the brand and the city well, while also reflecting the attacking, uptempo, aggressive style of play he wants from his team.
Portland natives Marcus Harvey, founder of Portland Gear, and Brian Gundell, an accomplished sports logo designer who has worked with teams around the world, produced the new logos. Their design is based upon the red-tailed hawk native to Oregon, the primary design includes a silhouette of Mount Hood and a pair of feathers to link the modern logo with the crest the team wore for its first 45 seasons.
"We are very excited to played a role in the creation of a new identity for one of the Portland's four major sports teams," Harvey said. "This project was many months in the making and we're thrilled to finally be able to showcase it."
In conjunction with the new logo, the Winterhawks announced a partnership with Portland Gear company to be the club's official apparel supplier.
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