Public schools in California would have to stop using the term “Redskins” for their sports teams or mascot if a bill is approved by state legislators.
Assembly Bill 30, authored by Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, would prohibit schools from using the name beginning Jan. 1, 2017. If the legislation becomes law, California would become the first state to ban the use of Redskins for public schools.
The Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media and the Education Committee have approved the bill. It now heads to the Appropriations Committee before it can go before the full Assembly and then the Senate.
The four high schools in California that still use Redskins as their mascot are Chowchilla in Madera County, Gustine in Merced County, Calaveras in Calaveras County and Tulare Western in Tulare County.
“We’ve been down this road since, I believe, 1996,” said Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell. “This bill seems to have a better chance to pass.
“I don’t pretend to think some people aren’t offended by the use of Redskins. We understand that and if we have to make a change, we will. Our community doesn’t want it, our Native American community doesn’t want it, but if we have to, we’ll make the change,” Campbell said.
If forced to make the change, Chowchilla and Gustine won’t be as willing.
“We don’t call those offended by the term Redskins, Redskins. We call ourselves Redskins,” said Chowchilla Union High School District Superintendent Ron Seals. “We use the term as a sense of pride, respect and honor. We don’t use it in a derogatory way.
“It’s been our school mascot since the (1920s). In the fall, we’re going to celebrate our 100-year celebration. We are a one-high school town. We’re a small community with lots of alumni and generations of Redskins,” Seals said.
To help offset cost issues, the California Racial Mascots Act would allow schools to continue using uniforms and other items bearing the term Redskins that were purchased before Jan. 1, 2017, if the school selects a new mascot and doesn’t buy new uniforms with the old nickname.
Schools would be able to replace up to 20 percent of uniforms with the old name until Jan. 1, 2019.
The costs of phasing out the name go far beyond uniforms for teams, cheerleaders and bands. There are gyms, scoreboards and other things on campus that would have to be changed.
“We did a study of the costs, and it will cost at least $110,000, and perhaps more,” Gustine Unified School District Superintendent Ronald Estes wrote in an e-mail. “I see this as a local control issue; district school boards should be able to make this type of decision based on local concerns and needs.”
Campbell estimates it would cost roughly $55,000 to $65,000 for Calaveras to eliminate the term Redskins from the school. Anticipating that eventually it would have to change, the school has been using Calaveras more than Redskins on projects around campus.
Estes, Gustine Principal John Petrone and the five GUSD board members signed a letter sent to Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.
In the letter, they write: “We are certainly aware of the sensitivity behind the utilization of the Redskin name. We have heard from Native Americans who have expressed opinions on both sides of the argument. What we have and continue to state emphatically is that at no time in the nearly 80 years we have used the Redskin moniker have we disparaged Native Americans, or portrayed our mascot in a derogatory fashion.”
This isn’t the first time these schools have faced the possibility of making these changes. The use of Redskins as a mascot has been a heated debate, including the NFL’s Washington Redskins. This is the third time state lawmakers have tried to ban the use of Native American terms as nicknames or mascots.
In 2002, a bill calling for the ban of nicknames such as Indians, Braves and Chiefs was introduced but failed. In 2004, Jackie Goldberg, who was then an assemblywoman from Los Angeles, narrowed the bill to ban just Redskins. The bill was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“There is obviously a lack of respect when we allow teams to brand themselves with racial slurs,” Alejo told the Los Angeles Times. “The R-word was once used to describe Native American scalps sold for bounty, and in today’s society it has become widely recognized as a racial slur.”
Like Estes, Seals feels those decisions should be made at the local level. He said school officials won’t have any discussions about a possible new nickname if and when a law is passed.
“I’m not traveling to Watsonville and calling the legislator a Redskin,” Seals said. “I’m not sitting in my district and telling him what he should do. So for him to sit in his district and tell me what to do in mine doesn’t sit well with me.”
The prominent inter-tribal organization is supporting a bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives this week by Congressman Mike Honda
The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) today strongly endorsed a bill that would remove all trademark protections of the Washington NFL team as long as the franchise retains the R-word racial slur as its team name.
Congressman Mike Honda introduced the legislation, entitled The Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act, this week in the U.S. House of Representative. The bill, which already has 26 co-sponsors, seeks to prevent any sports team from using a derogatory slur for Native Americans as its mascot and nickname.
“Congressman Honda has taken a bold stand against racism, discrimination and the continued denigration of Native Americans by introducing this legislation, which USET strongly supports,” said USET President Brian Patterson. “If the NFL’s Washington’s franchise is unwilling to change the offensive mascot then steps should be taken, wherever possible, to eliminate public funding and trademark protections for a league that persists in offending and insulting Native peoples.”
The new House bill would retroactively cancel any existing federal trademarks and prohibit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) from issuing new trademarks that use the term “r-dskins” in reference to Native Americans. It will also formally declare the word “r-dskins” a disparaging term when used in reference to Native Americans and therefore cannot be trademarked.
USET will hold its Welcome Reception Monday night, February 9th at 6PM. The reception will feature Congressman Honda and USET leadership, who will reaffirm USET’s strong opposition to the continued use of the R-word and other negative imagery and stereotypes. USET wishes to express support to Rep. Honda’s legislation that would remove the Washington football team of its name trademark protections. He will be provided podium time to make remarks. The reception will be held in Salon four at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, Virginia.
USET is a nationally recognized, non-profit, inter-tribal organization that collectively represents 26 member Tribes at the regional and national level. As a top organization addressing the issues facing Native Americans, USET has for years taken a leading role in demanding an end to the use of the racist R-word. Over the past two NFL seasons, USET and the national grassroots Change the Mascot campaign have garnered support from a diverse cross section of Americans including civil rights leaders, religious and human rights organizations, sports icons, political leaders from both parties and the President of the United States.
This week, USET will hold its annual Impact Week Meeting in Washington, D.C. The four-day event including meetings with Members of Congress and various government organizations about top issues facing Indian Country, as well as a variety of cultural activities and celebrations.
The dictionary-defined pejorative ‘Redskins’ was mentioned 27-percent less during NFL broadcasts this season, according to reports.
Timothy Burke of Deadspinreportedthat announcers said the word 472 fewer times in the 2014-15 regular season.
Meanwhile, use of the word ‘Washington’ to identify the team slightly increased during broadcasts. In 2014, ‘Washington’ was mentioned 1,390 times. In 2013, it was mentioned 1,380.
The team itself has been mired in controversy over its use and defense of its name. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office stripped the team of six of its seven trademarks, finding the word to be “disparaging to Native Americans.”
Since then, a growing chorus of dignitaries, celebrities and former players have called on team owner Dan Snyder to change the name. Former Secretary of State and possible 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton called the team name “insensitive”, and even President Barack Obama said if he were the owner of the team he would consider changing the name.
Snyder said he will “NEVER” change the name.
On Dec. 28, The Washington PostAssociate Editor Bob Woodward predicted on FOX News Sunday that Snyder will sell the team this year to either Apple or Google.
“Danny Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, who’s had past success in business, will realize he’s part of the problem,” he said, “and he’s going to sell it; he’s going to sell the Redskins and the bidding war is going to be between Apple and Google. Think of it — the ‘Washington Apples’?”
A massive march and rally will meet the Washington football team as it closes its season on December 28 at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, organizers said.
“As the Washington team’s season comes to a dismal close, we call on Dan Snyder to claim a simple win: change the name. Washington’s ongoing use of a Native American slur and mascot promotes the dehumanization, marginalization, and stereotyping of Native peoples,” reads a press release sent to ICTMN.
The march will begin at 10 a.m. and will conclude with a rally at a yet to be determined location, according to the release.
Organizers of the event include the National Congress of American Indians, the Oneida Indian Nation’s Change the Mascot campaign, the American Indian Movement, the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, Not Your Mascots and other organizations.
OCCUPIED TAMIEN OHLONE TERRITORY (Santa Clara, California) – After successful demonstrations in O’odham (Glendale, Arizona) and Dakota (Twin Cities, Minnesota), four-hundred Indigenous Peoples and their allies poured into Tamien in solidarity with a national grassroots campaign to change the name and mascot of the Washington NFL team. Traveling by carpool, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and out-of-state flights, many amplified a growing voice for decolonization in sports.
The demonstration began at 8 a.m. with a prayer at one of many desecrated sacred sites (shell mounds and burial grounds) maintaining its indigenous Ohlone place name, Ulistac. According to Corrina Gould, a Karkin and Chochenyo Ohlone, Uli is the name of an Ohlone warrior who inhabited the area and stac refers to place/land. The prayer to the land and ancestors was followed by a march to Levi’s Stadium held prior to the game between San Francisco and Washington.
The peaceful event included a two-hour series of passionate and informed speeches from local, regional, and national activists, including people Indigenous to the area and upcoming leaders like Jacqueline Keeler of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry (EONM) and Dahkota Brown a 16-year-old Wilton Miwok student and founder of Native Education Raising Dedicated Students (NERDS). Elders who’ve inspired future generations also spoke on the topic, including Charlene Teeters and Clyde Bellecourt of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media (NCRSM).
Asian, African, and European people also educated fans by engaging, chanting, and holding picket signs and banners. Tribal African music blessed the event and recognized the similar histories between the African and Indigenous diaspora. Mexica (Aztec) dancers joined together in prayer, symbolizing the remembrance of the so-called Latino/Hispanic’s Indigeneity and pan-Indigenous interests across the colonial US-MX border.
Radio and television ads criticizing the nickname were aired throughout Ohlone and Miwok territories leading up to the game. Many broadcasters became allies when they chose not to mention Washington’s mascot. Audiences must understand the scalps of Indigenous Peoples were captured to collect bounties from the United States and expand White Supremacy outside of Europe.
Although Washington’s team owner, Dan Snyder, has vowed to “never change the name” and the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell said earlier this year the nickname has been “presented in a way that honors Native Americans,” the demonstrations outside Levi’s Stadium and nationwide indicate Indigenous decolonization and self-determination is inevitable.
As fans passed the demonstration, many were quite surprised. “I’ve been a Washington fan for a long time and I’ve seen more resistance the last few years,” says Brian Jones, 35. He continued, “This demonstration helps me understand the mascot impacts actual people. It made me think about the other side of this issue.” John, 29, agreed saying, “When I see actual Native American’s are offended—I have to respect that.”
A die-hard Washington fan, Robert Magnini, 60, said, “I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. I think the name is offense and we need to change the name as soon as possible.”
Not all Indigenous Peoples agree, including Joseph Rey Potter, 14, who passed the demonstration wearing a Washington jersey and a Pomo baseball hat. “My Dad was a fan, so I just stayed with it. I understand it’s racist, but I’m just a fan of the game.” Potter concluded, “If they changed their name, I’d be a bigger fan.”
Kris Longoria and Antonio Gonzales, co-chairs of the Bay Area Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, said they will continue to escalate pressure on the NFL football team and build more partnerships with local organizations and government institutions.
Many urgent struggles exist across the Western Hemisphere and we must all do our part to challenge colonialism and honor Indigenous nations, leadership, and goals.
“PEOPLE SEE THIS ISSUE IS WINNABLE, ATTAINABLE, AND THEY BECOME EMPOWERED TO MOVE ONTO THE BIGGER ISSUES,” COMMENTED ANTONIO GONZALES.
A grandmother and her granddaughter appeared severely wounded, covered in bloody hair and hair buns held together with knives. “Redskin means someone whose been scalped, so me and my grandma put fake blood all over to show what a redskin means,” said Calissa Gali, 11. “None of my friends know what redskin means. They should learn at school, but some of the teachers don’t want to talk about it.”
Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes (SSPRIT) has transferred the pain of another desecrated Ohlone Shell Mound in Karkin by decolonizing Vallejo High School’s Apaches and Solano Middle School’s Chieftains this year. The connections between appropriated sacred sites and stereotypes in sports are undeniable.
SSPRIT are now contractors, collaborating with students and administrators to educate about Indigenous mascots at school assemblies. Teacher training was also included in the negotiations to foster an integrated ethnic studies program across the school district. A duplication of this attainable model is also occurring with the Carquinez Coalition to Change the Mascot (CCCM) for John Swett High School Indians in Karkin (Crocket, CA).
Changing Washington’s name and mascot is not the end of changes to come. Colonization was several lifetimes of trauma and decolonization will take several lifetimes of healing. We envision post-colonialism. We’re not your mascot anymore.
Bay Area Coalition Against Racism in Sports is sponsored by American Indian Movement-West, Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Indian People Organizing for Change, Sacred Sites Protection & Rights of Indigenous Tribes, ANSWER Coalition, Idle No More SF Bay, and National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. National ‘Change the Mascot’ supporters can be found at: http://www.changethemascot.org/supporters-of-change/
PORT TOWNSEND – The football practice looked the same at the old grassy field.
There were those familiar red and black football jerseys and the smell of fall hung in the air. It is a rite of passage in this small peninsula town, which has clung to a nickname for 88 years that many people felt was steeped in tradition.
But on this first day of classes, there were few signs of the term “Redskins” on this 400-student campus.
“We want to move forward,” says Scott Wilson, the Port Townsend High Athletic Director, who has led a sometimes controversial conversion. The School Board voted last year to change the school mascot, after numerous calls to do so, including from the neighboring Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
The school colors remain the same, but the players will now wear “Townsend” or “Redhawks” across their chests.
“Not that we want to obliterate the old one, but we want to be positive about this,” said Wilson, as he strode through the school gym.
The old references are gone, and a new logo is at center court. It’s just one of the changes on campus, which included the removal of a granite welcome sign near the school entrance.
Wilson estimates the cost is roughly $90,000 in all, and says some of the work falls under the needed infrastructure improvements, but that some of the other costs have been picked up by private contributions. He says the tribe donated $25,000 for the needed changes.
Port Townsend Junior Ellis Henderson walked around campus on this first day and said the change was finally settling in. “It’s good for the community, and why they wanted to change it. We know how some people found it offensive.”
His teammate, Lucas Foster, another Port Townsend Junior agreed. Although he wasn’t too sure about the name change originally, he said, “Now we’re Redhawks, and we’re liking it.”
ESPN analyst and former Chicago Bears head coach Mike Ditka isn’t falling in line with the growing number of sportscasters, journalists and sundry public figures who refuse to use the name of the Washington NFL team. Instead, he says people who oppose the team’s name are “asinine.”
“What’s all the stink over the Redskin name?” Ditka said during an interview with Mike Richman of RedskinsHistorian.com. “It’s so much [expletive], it’s incredible. We’re going to let the liberals of the world run this world. It was said out of reverence, out of pride to the American Indian. Even though it was called a Redskin, what are you going to call them, a Proudskin? This is so stupid it’s appalling, and I hope that owner keeps fighting for it and never changes it, because the Redskins are part of an American football history, and it should never be anything but the Washington Redskins. That’s the way it is
“It’s been the name of the team since the beginning of football,” Ditka added. “It has nothing to do with something that happened lately, or something that somebody dreamed up. This was the name, period. Leave it alone. These people are silly — asinine, actually, in my opinion.”
Ditka continued to berate all those who oppose the name – a group that includes high-ranking individuals like Hillary Clinton, Keith Olbermann and former Washington player Champ Bailey.
“It’s all the political correct idiots in America, that’s all it is,” Ditka said. “It’s got nothing to do with anything else. We’re going to change something because we can. Hey listen, I went through it in the 60s, too. I mean, come on. Everybody lined up, did this. It’s fine to protest. That’s your right, if you don’t like it, protest. You have a right to do that, but to change the name, that’s ridiculous. Change the Constitution — we’ve got people trying to do that, too, and they’re doing a pretty good job.”
CBS Sportscaster Phil Simms, who will call Thursday Night Football games beginning September 11, said Monday that he is hesitant to use the name of the Washington team and is sensitive to the complaints about the name. “My very first thought is it will be Washington the whole game,” Simms told The Associated Press.
Simms said he is not taking sides in the contentious debate, but that once he thought about the name his conscience kicked in. “I never really thought about it, and then it came up and it made me think about it,” Simms added. “There are a lot of things that can come up in a broadcast, and I am sensitive to this.”
Keith Harper, a Cherokee Nation citizen,was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as the United State ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on June 3, 2014. Harper is the first citizen of a federally recognized tribe to reach the rank of U.S. ambassador. He arrived in Geneva a week after his Senate appointment and has been on the job non-stop since then.
Harper’s ambassadorship caps two decades of legal work on behalf of Native Americans, including a partnership at the law firm of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, where he was chair of the Native American Practice Group; senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund; Supreme Court Justice on the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians; and appellate justice on the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court.
ICTMN was pleased for the opportunity to conduct this interview. “This will be my first on-the-record interview since assuming my position so I wanted to be sure we did it with [a publication from] Indian country,” he said.
What is your mission as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council?
I represent the United States at the council. The council is a 47 member-state body elected by the member states of the U.N. and its purpose is to promote human rights, plain and simple. It’s one of the three principal institutions of the United Nations so it plays a vital role in promoting human rights and we assert the positions of the United States vis-à-vis human rights. And the mission is that we have interests in assuring the expansion of freedoms – freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, among others. Certainly, the United States has important interests in assuring that countries live up to their obligations regarding human rights internationally, and there are a variety of mechanisms at the council’s disposal in order to shed a light on bad actors and bad situations and to otherwise establish best practices and provide technical assistance where needed.
What’s your typical day like when the council is in session?
Council sessions are very busy. They are chock-full of meetings where we’re negotiating texts on resolutions especially ones the United States cares deeply about. That would include things like freedom of expression, women’s rights, rights of Indigenous Peoples and country-specific resolutions where, for example, in the case of Syria you have mass atrocities going on for extended periods of time the United States took a leadership role in passing a resolution not only condemning the atrocities, but laying the groundwork for ultimate accountability for those committing such atrocities. So the council sessions are a busy time when we’re going through the process of finalizing documentation in order to pass very sound, effective resolutions and at the same time we’re making interventions, meaning we are identifying subject areas in which we have something important to say. … [I]n the June session we thought it was critically important to highlight the scourge of violence against Native women, indigenous women worldwide, that in far too many places, far too often and for far too long indigenous women have been subject to extraordinary violence and too often it goes unabated. So we thought it was important to highlight that situation and press states to find better ways to address those circumstances.
Can you actually affect policy? Do you have real tools to work with—a budget, a means to impose penalties or sanctions on violators?
Absolutely. I think it’s a demonstrable fact that the U.N. Human Rights Council’s actions have made a difference on the ground in a number of countries. … One, there is an ability to document through mandate-holders whether they be a special rapporteur or commissions of inquiry appointed by the council to go out and actually find the facts because what’s critically important here is not to debate the facts [but] to understand what the facts are and then one can understand what to do about the situation. And this leads to the ability to hold accountable not only states but also individuals within those states for violations of human rights. It’s also within the council’s power to provide technical assistance. What we find often is that states have a willingness to do better and bring themselves in line with their human rights obligations but don’t necessarily have the capacity to do so. So this technical assistance is critical to aiding them and enabling them to do better with human rights whether that be expanding freedom of expression, ensuring freedom of the press, making sure that there’s not extra-judicial killings – a whole variety of issues. So I think the council’s role is critical. The other piece that I don’t want to lose here is where the council acts on what we call thematic issues – things like insuring the protection of women, expanding the protection of children, taking steps against human trafficking, addressing concerns regarding Indigenous Peoples, having protections in place for LGBT persons. There’s a whole variety of thematic issues that we work on as well and these are a way to establish best practices, to appoint special rapporteurs to ensure that we are highlighting countries in which the practices are less than what they should be and also finding places where best practices have been established so that other countries can do the same.
Will you have any role regarding climate change policy especially as it pertains to working with tribes?
Climate change, as Secretary [of the State Department John] Kerry has stated time and time again is a critically important issue and it’s one that should be on the top of our priority list. The question is not whether or not the United States and the State Department should deal with climate change. The question really is, who should deal with it? What institutions are best equipped to affect real change on climate change? And there’s a number of bodies within the U.N. system and multilateral organizations generally that are affecting climate change in a very effective and forceful way. So from our vantage point, rather than try to force a square peg into a round hole, it’s better to have the institutions that are charged with dealing with climate change do so. And so the approach of the United States is to empower those institutions to bring together states so that we can deal with this critically important issue. And from my vantage point it should go without saying, the impact of climate change on Indigenous Peoples generally, and tribes in the United States specifically, ought to be a top agenda item for those addressing climate change.
How much of your work on the council will focus on Indigenous Peoples?
It’s obviously a priority issue for me. I think that now that we’ve had virtually universal acceptance of the [UN] Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples there is a roadmap and a set of principles which states should move towards and I think with respect to that document, but also just ensuring that basic human rights of all peoples, which applies to Indigenous Peoples as well and indigenous individuals, should be lived up to and there are a number of respects in which they’re not, around the world. We can do far better. The other piece on Indigenous Peoples that I think we’ve had a very positive development on in the United States over the last four decades is this movement towards empowering indigenous communities themselves to address the challenges they face. So, for example, in the Violence Against Women Act, that was a circumstance in which the President supported and ultimately signed a bill that provided criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit violent crimes against women on the reservation. That is a watershed development because it empowers the tribe to deal with that challenge. And we think that’s a model that can be adopted in many other places where Indigenous Peoples are empowered either legally or through a provision of resources to address their economic, political or social challenges.
What, if any, will your role be in moving the federal government to implement the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Let me start by saying the United States from what I’ve seen of the internal dialogue regarding Indian policy has looked at the Declaration as a guiding source for implementing policy. I know that’s come up time and again in internal deliberations among federal officials and indeed if you look at some of the policies of the present administration whether it be the increased focus on consultation with tribes, insuring that there’s better economic development or empowerment of tribal governments or seeking protection of cultural resources – I think there’s a variety of ways in which the Declaration has informed policy already. My role is to encourage that and I will encourage that and have encouraged that… We think it should inform policy development everywhere and certainly in my experience it has already and should continue to inform policy development in the United States.
I think one of the things that made people uncomfortable was the language that was used when the federal government announced it was “lending its support” to the Declaration … and the State Department’s white paper said that the Declaration calls for “the development of a concept of self-determination for Indigenous Peoples that is different from the existing right of self-determination in international law.” Is there any evidence to support that claim?
Let me take each one of those questions separately. With respect to “lending support” I think it’s very clear from the President’s statement that he endorses the Declaration. You have to recall that the Declaration is indeed a declaration, meaning it’s not a legally binding instrument, it’s not covenant, and it’s not a treaty. Under international law, it declares certain principles by which we agree policy should be developed. And that’s very important! The Universal Declaration on Human Rights – when it was endorsed universally by states certainly the provisions were not universally complied with. Well, they’re still not universally complied with but I think there’s a push toward universal compliance with the Universal Declaration. So Declarations serve a critically important role but they are different from binding legal instruments. We just have to make that distinction, so when we say “lending support” or endorsing that’s an absolutely critical development. There was a thorough review of the Declaration. This president, who should be commended for it, decided to endorse the Declaration.
The second question goes to the issue of self-determination. I think there’s been an unfortunate tendency to get caught up in theoretical aspects of this… The scholars are pretty clear on one point – that self-determination has to be determined in a contextual manner based on the context in which it arises. So, for example, there may be in certain states, certain peoples who don’t have a right to secede because of concerns for territorial integrity and the important and vital central principle that is under international law. So self-determination is always to be viewed in a contextual manner and I think the thrust of that is to say that it should be viewed contextually here as well. But let’s really get down to the nitty-gritty here because what I think the Declaration says and the important message that it has is one that has been fully adopted by this President and that is that the relations between the United States and tribes should be nation-to-nation. He’s repeatedly said that and I think his actions and the actions of his administration have lived up to that ideal of being a nation-to-nation relationship where it’s not a top-down approach but far better to empower tribal communities to address the challenges that they face.
The U.S. has consistently said that the U.N. Declaration must remain consistent with existing U.S. Indian law but we know that’s not perfect. How can the Declaration be the basis for reforming what’s wrong with U.S. federal Indian law and policy when the U.S. insists that the Declaration must be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with existing U.S. federal Indian law and policy?
First thing I’d say is the Declaration, again, is a non-legally binding instrument; it’s a set of principles that states agreed to and that states’ policies should be guided by. And as I mentioned earlier, the Declaration has been and should continue to be considered as a guiding light. That is its critical importance. The second thing I’d say is we have vacillated over the last 200 years of Indian policy from times when there has been greater respect for tribal communities and tribal self-governance, whether that be during the IRA [Indian Reorganization Act] or now in the self-determination period since the late 1960s. But there have been other periods like allotment, termination where there were much more assimilation-oriented policies, much more disrespect for tribal self-government. What the Declaration does is say that we all agree that these are the principles and the principles include the principle that tribes should have a key role in their own destiny. And what that does is makes it much more difficult politically to have regression back to the more difficult policies that end up hurting tribes.
How do you respond to criticism that the U.S. has a less than stellar human rights ranking according to the United Nation’s own agencies and processes?
There’s no official rankings, I think that would be a misunderstanding. Look, the United States would be the first to admit that no state gets it right all the time. We all have our challenges. And that’s why we have treaty bodies like CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] and the Human Rights Council. That’s why the Human Rights Council has what’s called the Universal Periodic Review, meaning that every state goes under review on its human rights record because we believe that no state should be free from scrutiny and every state can do better on human rights. Having said that, I think we have to recognize that in so many ways the United States is the high water mark whether you’re looking at freedom of expression or freedom of assembly, or if you look at the movement that’s been made on securing the protections of LGBT people and the advancements in addressing standard discrimination, in preparing tribal communities to resolve their own challenges. There is no other state in the world that I’m aware of where Indigenous Peoples have been empowered to have criminal jurisdiction in their own court systems over non-members of that community, for example. So I think what we have to say is there are challenges, we need to continue these processes which are vitally important to holding up a mirror on every state so we can identify the challenges. And certainly no state is perfect and the United States has its challenges, but the important thing is that we have a robust and vibrant domestic dialogue to make sure we make progress day after day, month after month, year after year.
How does your identity as an indigenous person inform your perspective on human rights?
Well, you know, given our history there’s no doubt there have been really tragic and difficult times. With the Cherokee Nation of course we have the Trail of Tears and even more recently than that when our lands were taken away and there were attempts to extinguish our tribal rights. I think what it does is it puts you in a place of having great empathy towards communities and individuals who are also striving to empower their own people… and to better connect with them in trying to resolve their human rights situations.
Could you please comment on the Washington football team’s use of the name Redskins?
On a personal level, I find the term “redskins” to be disparaging. I think it should have no place and if I owned the team I would change the name. It’s pretty clear cut to me – nobody would walk down the street and call me a redskin unless they were intentionally trying to insult me.
Once again, the United Nations has taken a strong stance in condemning what the Human Rights Council has described in its July 23 resolution as the “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights” by Israeli forces in Gaza. (Among other things, the resolution included a provision to create an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and particulary in the occupied Gaza Strip during the military operations conducted since June 13.) Yet Israel, with the support of its lone international ally the United States, persists in following a policy that has resulted in an extraordinary number of civilian deaths. Since the statement was made, almost 1,400 more civilians have been killed. What possible tools do you have as U.S. human rights ambassador to stem a war policy that targets all Palestinians as hostiles, much in the way the indigenous nations of the Americas were targeted for centuries?
First, I would caution against comparisons that may not apply. In this situation we are dealing with a group, Hamas, which by their own admission, are sending indiscriminately into civilian areas rocket after rocket after rocket in the thousands. They’re building tunnels for the purpose of kidnapping … I don’t agree that that analogizes to Indian struggles. With respect to the situation in Gaza what we first should acknowledge is whether there are deaths on the Israeli side or the Palestinian side, they’re tragic and I’m personally heartbroken by how many deaths there have been, including children. Having said that, we have to ask ourselves how we can be constructive and what approaches are we taking that are going to be most constructive and having increased condemnation of one side – the state of Israel – while not mentioning Hamas in my personal judgment doesn’t make any sense. So, going back to the Human Rights Council’s actions we were the sole vote against that resolution. I think it was the right vote because that resolution was not constructive, it was going to make it more difficult to get a ceasefire, which should have been the goal of all of us. In addition, the resolution was extraordinarily one-sided, it did not mention Hamas rocket attacks, for example, and so because of the biased nature of that resolution there was no reason to support it. I’ll also say this: There’s already an investigative mechanism in place – the special rapporteur, a respected diplomat from Indonesia – and so now to have another commission of inquiry did not make much sense to us. We also have to realize there’s a long history with the council taking action against Israel time and time again.
What do you hope to achieve as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council?
What I hope to achieve is the promotion of human rights writ large. There are also some specific areas in which I think we can make significant progress. One area that I think is of particular importance is this whole space of women’s rights whether we’re talking about gender equality, the importance of assuring access to education or capital for women, addressing female genital mutilation, addressing child marriage and forced marriage – this whole space of protecting women to enjoy their human rights. What we find if we look at the empirical data is that when states get that correct – when they protect the rights of their women – they set the foundation for empowering their entire nation politically, economically, and socially. And when they fail to protect women’s rights they undermine their ability to get almost anything else right. And so this is a place where we can be particularly successful, in my view.
An overwhelming majority of Democrats have said that the Redskins should change their name: Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, 49 US Senators and President Obama included. Now, add to the list U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Holder was asked if the name should change.
“I’m going to speak very personally now,” Holder said. “The name ought to be changed. It’s an offensive name. The Redskins, that organization is a great one. It’s a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, D.C., and in the 21st century they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support, if they did something that from my perspective that is so obviously right.”
Despite the growing opposition to the name, one group of ‘Redskins’ fans recently pushed back on the name change. Some Virginia legislators have created a “Redskins Pride Caucus,” and say that the name should not be changed because to them, it’s about “community unity,” rather than anything offensive.
Hail to the Potomacs? If the owner of the Redskins wants to put the controversy over his team name to rest while keeping a Native American theme, he’ll likely have one local tribe’s blessing.
“I was just telling my wife the other day, ‘Why don’t we write to Dan Snyder and suggest changing the name to the Washington Potomacs?” said John Lightner, chief of the Patawomeck tribe of Virginia.
The Patawomecks (or Potomacs), native people of the region, gave their name to the river that flows through Washington, D.C. In the 1600s they belonged to the tribal confederation headed by the great chief Powhatan, from whose war club daughter Pocahontas, legend has it, saved John Smith. (Pocahontas’s mother was a Patawomeck.) Today the tribe counts some 1,500 members, most in Stafford County, Va.
If — and that’s if — the Redskins wanted to style themselves the Potomacs, after the local tribe and the great waterway that shares their name, the tribe likely would endorse the move, Lightner, said.
It has a certain ring to it. It would evoke a sense of place as the name of the river as well as the tribe native to the region. The team’s colors wouldn’t have to change. Nor, for that matter, would the logo.
And this strategy, adopting the name of a local tribe with that tribe’s blessing, is what has saved the Florida State University Seminoles, the University of Utah Utes, and the Central Michigan University Chippewas from charges of racism. The local Stafford High School Indians drew criticism for their mascot, but the tribe wrote to express support for the name, and even helped redesign the logo from a Plains Indian in headdress to an Eastern Woodland Indian reflective of local tribes.
Not that Patawomecks are necessarily offended by the Redskins name, mind you — despite what critics in the media, Congress, and the U.S. Patent Office say.
“I do not find the title of the Washington Redskins offensive in any way,” said William L. Deyo, Patawomeck tribal historian. “I cannot speak for the whole tribe, but I can honestly say that I have never heard of anyone in the tribe having a problem with the name of Redskins used by the team.”
Chief Lightner agreed, in much the same terms. “We’ve got to the point where political correctness has gotten to be ridiculous — everything is offensive to somebody,” he said. “I would venture to say it would be shocking to see how many Native Americans are not opposed to the Redskins’ name.”
Bonny Newton, Patawomeck tribal secretary, recalled the joy taken in the team by her late mother-in-law, Polly Sullivan Newton, who passed away this spring at age 93. “She was the most loyal of all Redskin fans,” Newton said. “She watched every game. I really enjoyed watching Miss Polly watch the Redskins. From her recliner she told the team how to play, what to play, and who to play the entire three-plus hours every Sunday. She knew all the team members, the coach, and this little woman had the rules of the game down pat.”
Activists pressing the name-change campaign condemn Indian team names and mascots as an appropriation and mockery of native culture. The Redskins, for their part, staunchly defend their 80-year-old name as an expression of honor for Native American pride, strength and bravery.
“I would prefer to keep the name of the team as the Washington Redskins, as it is a longtime name of pride for area people,” said Deyo, the Patawomeck historian. But if the team were to switch to the name of his tribe, he said, “I would find the name of Washington Potomacs an honor.”