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Friday, May 24, 2024
Law

Lawsuit: Blackhawks Lured Indigenous Consultant With False Promise of Changing Logo

  • A former team adviser claimed the team reneged on promises, including changing its logo.
  • She also said people affiliated with the team sexually harassed her and other women.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks are facing a lawsuit from a former consultant of the team who was hired to help build relationships with Native American communities. Nina Sanders, who contracted for the team from 2020 to ’23, is accusing the team, its CEO, and its charity of a breach of oral contract, fraud, and sexual harassment.

Unlike other organizations like Washington’s football team and Cleveland’s baseball team, the Blackhawks have thus far kept their Native American imagery and name, instead choosing to build relationships with the Sac and Fox Nation, and doing so more formally starting in 2020 with Sanders. She has advised prominent organizations in the past, including the city’s Field Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, according to CBS Chicago.

“I told him that it was racist,” Sanders said, “that it was offensive because it was a caricature of a real person; a man who actually fought on behalf of his own people and lost so many lives in that process.”

Chief Black Hawk, the team’s namesake, was a war leader from the Sac and Fox Nation who lived in the Midwest in the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries. 

Sanders filed the suit in Circuit Court of Cook County on Tuesday. She claimed that she orchestrated meetings between the team and the tribe, and, while she initially believed and communicated that the team intended to change its logo, the franchise later changed course and got approval through a new resolution from the tribe to keep using it. The team also gave the tribe $100,000 in grant funding and a $250,000 decommissioned Black Hawk helicopter.

“I built relationships with my own trusted native colleagues,” Sanders told CBS Chicago, “and once they figured out how to do it, they pushed me out.”

That reversal is the basis of Sanders’s fraud claim, because Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz’s initial stance is why she took the job in the first place, she said. She claimed Wirtz had promised to change the logo, buy land for the tribe, and create positions for Native Americans, none of which has been done, according to the lawsuit.

Her sexual harassment claims center on her experiences and those of other women working for the organization, and she said no action was taken after she reported the incidents. The team said in a statement the accused abusers “are not, and have never been, independent contractors with nor employees of the Chicago Blackhawks.” Two of the men named in the suit include a representative of the Sac and Fox Nation and a founder of a Chicagoland cultural center, both of which hom received money from the Blackhawks’ charity, CBS Chicago reported. The team also said it wasn’t made aware of the allegations until after Sanders no longer worked for the team, and it “found insufficient evidence to substantiate her claims.”

It isn’t the first high-profile harassment lawsuit the Blackhawks have faced in recent years. Two former players have sued the team, saying that video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted them during the 2010 Stanley Cup championship year. Reports revealed the organization knew about the abuse and kept Aldrich through the playoffs, which resulted in the firing of top team officials when all of this became public in ’21.

The team and Sanders also dispute how her time at the organization ended. While Sanders said she was pushed out, the team held that she decided not to renew her contract—an offer it made despite apparently getting feedback that partners didn’t want to keep working with her.

“For more than a decade, the Chicago Blackhawks have worked to deepen relationships and align our efforts with our namesake Black Hawk’s ancestral tribe, the Sac & Fox Nation, and other Native American communities,” the team said in a statement to CBS Chicago. “We are as committed as ever to this partnership and look forward to sharing details on upcoming initiatives, their community impact and furthering the education of our fans and the general public.”

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