Daniel Snyder's ‘Gifts’ to Natives Undermine and Corrupt
By Phil Gover
It exists to zoom-in and highlight the divisions within our communities and to remove the joy from the small things that bring us together. It does its work by forcing people to make a choice between their dignity and temporary relief from the trappings of poverty. In doing so it preys upon people’s biggest weaknesses and worst fears, turns communities against each other, and even turns cousin against cousin.
I’m struck by the layered cynicism of Snyder’s philanthropic enterprise. The first layer is an assumption about non-Native people–that by creating a foundation in the midst of crisis one can hand-wave the negative press away. That argument goes like this: “The Redskins couldn’t possibly be a racist name–look at all the good work they do in Indian country.” This is probably enough to boost the confidence of some name supporters whose resolve is flagging. No need to examine exactly what the foundation does–its existence is proof enough. This is philanthropy as a public relations response to crisis management, which is another way of saying it’s not philanthropy at all. I work in the non-profit world, and have met with donors big and small and the literal heart of a philanthropist is a love of humanity and the desire to grow people. Philanthropy in Indian country is real and it isn’t found in the heart of a man who finds “pride, courage and intelligence” in the social equivalent of a fraternity blackface party.
The second layer of cynicism concerns all of our communities. Snyder started his enterprise by submitting a survey across Indian country asking what tribes needed. It’s clear now that Snyder was talking about things. He didn’t ask for it, but here is my answer to that survey question: We need better schools and better school leaders. We need more Native men and women with college and professional degrees. We need counselors to help our children understand why suicide isn’t an answer. We need police to stop murdering our men in the street. We need to end the food deserts that make poor health a destiny. We need shelter and protection for our battered women and education for our men who learned that beating someone is the way to get them to love you. We need our Native children everywhere to be affirmed and celebrated not mocked and stung by a silent, invisible racism. We need non-Native people to care about the disasters happening all around them.
Snyder’s foundation only offers things. And long after that sponsored rodeo is over, that playground falls into disrepair or those passenger vans break down, the truth is that you’ll still be poor, and Snyder will have gotten what he wanted: the veneer of support from some in Indian country, the satisfaction of distracting his own supporters, the opportunity to move on with his life and give his fans the blessing to do this.