The Battle of Washington
Daniel Snyder says it honors the heritage of Native Americans; critics consider it nothing less than a racist slur. We set out to gauge the real sentiment regarding the name ‘Redskins’ among Native American leaders and in grass-roots tribal communities around the country. The short answer: It’s complicated
By Jenny Vrentas
We found opponents of the name in 18 tribes: veterans of the U.S. military, lawyers, college students, cultural center employees, school volunteers and restaurant servers. Their viewpoints align with official statements from dozens of tribes or inter-tribal councils and from the NCAI, which represents more than 250 tribal governments at the Embassy of Tribal Nations. Many of these people wondered how, or if, their voices are being counted.
By no means is there a consensus. We met a man in San Carlos who grew up rooting for Joe Theismann. Others pointed out how the Florida State Seminoles and Central Michigan Chippewas use Native American mascots with the approval and input of the tribes. Some whom we spoke to on the San Carlos and Big Cypress reservations said they had no opinion, and members of about a dozen other tribes or communities we reached out to did not respond or declined to be interviewed.
But team officials and the NFL paint a nearly uniform picture of support for the name, typically citing the results of a 2004 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that 90 percent of the 768 self-identified Native Americans polled said the team name “Redskins” did not bother them. (The question: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?”). That survey is 10 years old. Can the same opinion be applied today?
Snyder has already given his response to the growing pressure for a name change, and that response was last week’s announcement. To many, it’s an answer to a different question. “A paltry attempt to buy your way out of an ugly situation,” says Smith, the former Cherokee leader. “It suggests to me it may take another generation for them to come to their senses. It tells me it’s going to take more time.”
Maybe not. By now, opponents of the name are not expecting the change to be initiated by Snyder and the team, but rather through external pressures—the trademark case, legislation or public resistance. In the meantime, the calls are getting louder. “He’s clearly made sure that we all understand he’s grounded in his decision,” Pata says of Snyder. “But it doesn’t change [our optimism] at all. I think a change will be made in the near future. There is not even a doubt in my mind. I just do not think this can continue to be tolerated. This is not America, and it defies not just the first Americans, but who we are as American people, to be disrespectful to other people.”
Perhaps the most relevant question is not if there is a consensus among the country’s more than 5 million Native Americans—the answer is no—but rather, should a name change depend on one?
By David Treuer
In his news release and public statements, Mr. Snyder refers to “our shared Washington Redskins” heritage. To be clear: There is no “our” that includes Mr. Snyder. And there is no “Redskins” that includes us. There has been a sustained effort for decades by activists to change the name of this team and others. Members of my tribe, the Ojibwe, have been a big part of such efforts.
“Tribal officials” might be a better term here than “tribal leaders” because although they are elected, it is in no way clear that they actually represent the sentiments of their constituents any more than John Boehner represents the sentiments of most Americans. These officials’ public-relations-ready comments—“I appreciate your sincerity” and “the entire tribe is so appreciative”—are the diplomatic words of dignitaries, nothing more. It would be a mistake to assume that those words imply democratic consent.
By Brian Cladoosby
It seems quite clear that Snyder’s foundation will do little to address the problems that the R-word brand compounds daily: racial inequality and a lack of understanding of the place of native people in our society, especially youth.
These youth are an especially vulnerable population. Many are at a disadvantage because their communities lack basic infrastructure; before dealing with the challenges of career development and higher education, they must overcome life without phone service, Internet access or even running water. The rate of suicide among Native youth is the highest among all American young people. Studies show the use of American Indian-based names, mascots and logos in sports has a negative psychological effect on Native peoples and positive psychological consequences for European Americans.
Snyder has stated that his foundation will address issues facing Native youth, so we call on this new multimillion-dollar organization to advocate for a simple solution to address what many of the nation’s leading Native youth advocacy organizations have called for: the end of derogatory mascot imagery in our communities, media and culture. From that point forward, the organization will be able to spend its money even more effectively to address other institutional sources of racism and violence.
If the foundation does not address this issue, it will be clear that its works are window dressing to cover the team’s decades of racism against African Americans and Native Americans alike.
By Clara Caufield
“Possibly, but, the council must decide since you are on the twin horns of a dilemma. You are charged to meet the needs of our people, including children and elders who need coats, shoes, food, etc. But, you must also consider principle. Not all Cheyenne, like you, count on a regular paycheck," I responded.
As the publisher of a very small reservation newspaper, I thought I should not offend the tribe--a major economic player in this desolate economy. But, after reading other opinions, news articles and consulting with Dr. Richard Littlebear, my key advisor who usually sees things more clearly, I must state my views.
The Original Americans Foundation is a slick PR move to gain support from poor Native Americans to keep the Redskins mascot, cheaper than changing the “brand name” and commerce associated with the current mascot and logo. Most likely, the Redskins owner calls upon many corporate sponsors (the representatives mentioned Walmart and Sears) to get free tax write-offs.
Do we think the money comes from the hip pocket of the Redskins owner or is jerked from the tights of Redskins players? If so, we are foolish.