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A Native American artist is suing an NHL team that hired her to build better relationships with Native American communities amid backlash about its name, logo, and imagery depicting Native stereotypes. 

Nina Sanders (Apsáalooke) filed suit on May 14 in an Illinois court against the Chicago Blackhawks organization, alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment and fraud during her employment.

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When Sanders was hired as an independent contractor by the Blackhawk Organization in 2020, the team was mired in criticism following an announcement from the Washington Redskins that they would retire their name and logo.

According to the lawsuit, Daniel Wirtz, Blackhawks chairman and CEO, reached out to Sanders, offering her the position of liaison between the team and the Native American community. Wirtz made several promises to entice Sanders to accept the role, including hiring Native Americans, educating employees on Black Hawk, a Sauk leader, facilitating landback to the Sac and Fox Nation, and changing the team’s logo. 

In the lawsuit, Sanders states that none of these promises were fulfilled and that Wirtz “only intended on the Organization benefiting from their association with Ms. Sanders, as her standing and reputation in the Native American community.”

The suit alleges that shortly after Sanders began employment with the Blackhawk Organization in Septemeber 2020, her direct supervisor told her not to communicate matters such as sexual harassment in written form, such as email; rather, she should communicate such complaints through telephone or in person.

The lawsuit details several allegations of sexual harassment and assault toward Sanders and other women in the organization by two men associated with the team. One alleged incident involved an agent for the team sending Sanders sexually explicit videos of him masturbating on Snapchat; another in which he grabbed her arm and insisted he come to her room. 

The suit alleges that in November 2022, a Blackhawks dancer approached a woman and a private suite at the United Center and groped her. The woman, Sanders says, previously filed a police report against the dancer alleging he raped her. In another alleged incident, a man associated with the team sexually assaulted an employee. Sanders puts forth that none of the complaints were investigated by the Blackhawks organization or reported to the police. 

Following Sanders complaints of the incidents to her direct supervisor, she was moved out of team’s headquarters at Chicago’s United Center to a different location.

In June 2023, Sanders’ contract was terminated when, while an extension of her contract was being negotiated, she reassurted her allegations of harrasment and asked the organization how it planned to address the complaints.

“support specific initiatives in partnership with the Sac & Fox Nation and other Native American communities” and that “the organization had noted operational issues in her work, and had received feedback from external partners that they did not want to continue to work with her.”

According to the New York Times, the Blackhawk’s organization issued the following statement in response to the allegations:

“The Chicago Blackhawks have a zero-tolerance policy for misconduct and take allegations of harassment in the workplace very seriously,” one of the team’s statements read. “In response to Ms. Sanders’ allegations, the organization immediately conducted a thorough investigation with the assistance of outside counsel, including interviews with internal and external parties, and review of pertinent materials and digital records. Based on the information available to us, we found insufficient evidence to substantiate her claims. Of note, the persons identified by Ms. Sanders in your question are not, and have never been, independent contractors with nor employees of the Chicago Blackhawks.”

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About The Author
Author: Elyse WildEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Elyse Wild is senior editor for Native News Online and Tribal Business News.