SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – A Native American tribe from South Dakota will return a $25,000 donation from a charitable arm of the NFL’s Washington team, saying the team name is “derogatory and inappropriate.”
The tribal council of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe voted Wednesday to return the check, which was issued last month by the team’s Original Americans Foundation to the tribe’s rodeo association.
“A lot of those in our community are opposed to accepting money from the R*dsk*ns, which to us is a racist organization; the term is derogatory and inappropriate,” said Ryman LeBeau, the tribe’s vice chairman and a councilman. “Their fans make a mockery of Indian culture, and that’s just wrong.”
The foundation was created in March 2014 by team owner Dan Snyder following intensifying calls by Native Americans and other groups for the team to do away with its name. The team has maintained that it is meant to honor Native Americans, though a federal judge in June ordered the team’s trademark registration be cancelled, saying there is ample evidence that the name may be perceived as disparaging. However, that ruling does not preclude the team from using the word.
It wasn’t immediately known how many tribes have received donations from the foundation, but team spokesman Maury Lane said the majority of tribes are happy to accept such help and typically put the money toward improving things like transportation, education and football camps.
“The Original American foundation has been working with more than 50 federally recognized tribes, spending millions of dollars on more than 250 projects on tribal lands,” Lane said. “Our mission remains to improve the quality of life on these lands without interfering with tribal governance.”
The Cheyenne Sioux’s fair and rodeo board had passed a motion to allow Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier to seek money from the foundation but hadn’t brought the check to council until this week, LeBeau said, adding that Frazier has met personally with Snyder and the charitable arm.
Included in the motion voted on this week is language that bans Frazier from “unsanctioned communication” with the team or any group or person associated with it. Messages left at Frazier’s office were not immediately returned.
LeBeau, who says the central South Dakota tribe has areas he feels need improvement, doesn’t think it’s right to accept money from an organization that many feel doesn’t support them.
“It just feels like they want to buy us off and keep us quiet,” he said, noting that he knew of only a few people in the approximately 16,000-member tribe supported accepting the check.
Lane maintained that the vast majority the foundation’s donations are well-received.
“This is definitely an anomaly,” he said.
Earlier this year, the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah ousted a tribal chairwoman who was involved with the Original Americans Foundation for misconduct and ethical violations after accepting gifts of an autographed football and a trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a game in 2014.
The foundation also donated two vans to the tribe, which ex-chairwoman Gari Lafferty has said are used to transport children and elders. Lafferty has disputed the tribe’s allegations.
In South Dakota, LeBeau said the issue is preventing from the tribe from tackling larger issues like drug and alcohol abuse and suicides.
“This is just a (distraction) from working on the bigger solutions that will help our communities with the issues that are really affecting us, he said.”
At 30,000 members strong nationwide, Alaska’s largest Native American tribe has taken direct aim at FedEx in the hope that the shipping giant’s financial clout might persuade the Washington football team to change its racially-charged nickname once and for all.
Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska says it will boycott all FedEx services so long as the company continues to sponsor the Redskins. In doing so, the tribe, one of the nation’s largest, believes its strength in numbers could be enough to hit the NFL franchise where it hurts — its wallet.
FedEx owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium and is one of its top sponsors.
“This isn’t anti-FedEx. We are exercising our strength financially,” tribal president Richard Peterson said, via the Juneau Empire. “If you actively support entities, in this case specifically a sports franchise that has a mascot and name derogatory to our people, we’re going to spend our dollars elsewhere — that’s us voting with our dollars.”
The Redskins nickname is considered by many to be derogatory toward indigenous peoples. By definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary recognizes the term as “very offensive and should be avoided.”
But team owner Daniel Snyder insists the moniker is intended to honor Native Americans and has refused to accommodate demands to change it, despite intense public and political pushback.
So far, the team’s biggest sponsors have remained mostly silent on the matter. But that’s what the CCTHITA intends to change with the support of joint organizations like the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Washington Football Inc. (the Redskins’ parent company),” FedEx president Fred Smith, a member of the Redskins ownership group, told CNBC in June 2014 — the last time the company has made a public comment regading its relationship with the franchise.
“The Redskins play at FedEx Field. But there are many, many other events there: the Rolling Stones, Notre Dame, and Army and Navy football, Kenny Chesney. That’s our sponsorship, and we really don’t have any dog in this issue from the standpoint of FedEx.”
Peterson said the boycott will remain in effect until FedEx pulls its sponsorship or the Redskins remove a name he says perpetuates racial stereotypes.
“It’s like anybody else using the N-word,” Peterson said. “It’s like calling our women squaws. It may have been popular … with colonial, backwards-minded people back in the day, but I don’t think it’s appropriate and we need to be a voice and a champion.
“Hopefully they’re going to say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to wave our confederate flag or these old symbols of racism.'”
With elections coming soon for the position of Executive Director of the NFL Player Association (NFLPA), Change the Mascot campaign leaders have issued a letter to all of the candidates urging them to take a stand against the racist name of the Washington NFL team. The letter, issued by the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, and the Oneida Indian Nation, cites current Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s recent comments opposing the name. It also encourages the candidates to make public statements on the subject and to pledge to put forward a resolution to NFLPA members proposing that the organization join the Change the Mascot campaign and demand that the league change the name.
The letter notes how sports, and particularly beloved athletes, have unique power in shaping today’s culture. Correspondingly, it calls upon the future NFLPA Executive Director to use his position by being an importance voice for equality.
“Athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign,” states the letter.
The letter also cites how continued use of the R-word name is an affront for current NFL players on both a moral level by forcing them to wear and promote the iconography of the slur, and on an economical level by potentially reducing revenues.
The Change the Mascot letter was sent to Executive Director DeMaurice Smith who is running for re-election, as well as other candidates Jim Acho, Jason Belser, Sean Gilbert, Robert Griffith, Rob London, Arthur McAfee, Andrew Smith and John Stufflebeam.
The election for NFLPA Executive Director is scheduled for March 15.
Change the Mascot is a grassroots campaign that works to educate the public about the damaging effects on Native Americans arising from the continued use of the R-word. This civil and human rights movement has helped reshape the debate surrounding the Washington team’s name and brought the issue to the forefront of social consciousness. Since its launch last season, Change the Mascot has garnered support from a diverse coalition of prominent advocates including elected officials from both parties, Native American tribes, sports icons, leading journalists and news publications, civil and human rights organizations and religious leaders.
The full text of the letter to the candidates is included below and can be found on the Change the Mascot website here.
Dear NFLPA Executive Director Candidate,
From Jesse Owens to Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali, athletes hold a special leadership position in history’s crusades for social justice. That has never been truer than it is today: as sports have become such an integral part of American culture, athletes have unique power to shape that culture for the better and to be a voice for the cause of equality.
The National Football League Players Association has been one of the organizations that has consistently marshaled that power for this righteous cause, standing in solidarity with others, just as civil rights groups have stood with the union. Because you are a candidate to become the next executive director of this hallowed organization, we are writing to you with a critical request: we are asking that you pledge that, if elected, you will put a resolution forward to NFLPA members allowing them to vote to have the organization formally join our Change the Mascot Campaign.
Our campaign’s goal is simple: we want the NFL to use its power to finally stop the Washington franchise from promoting a dictionary-defined racial slur as its name. This is a word screamed at Native Americans as they were dragged at gunpoint off their lands — and it was a name originally given to the team by one of America’s most infamous segregationists, George Preston Marshall. As public health organizations have attested, this name has significant negative effects on Native Americans: every Sunday, the promotion of this name tells millions of Americans it is acceptable to denigrate native peoples on the basis of their alleged skin color.
Just as the NFL would never dare allow any other racial slur to brand one of its teams, it should not allow this name to continue to be promoted for the team that represents the nation’s capital. That is a common sense view understood by current professional football players including Richard Sherman and Champ Bailey; by former stars such as Terry Bradshaw, Calvin Hill and Mark Schlereth; and by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, the organization that works with the league to promote civil rights. They have all spoken out against the continued use of the team’s current name, as have major Native American organizations, public health organizations, religious leaders, sports media icons, governors, Members of Congress from both parties and the President of the United States.
For current NFL players, this name is an affront on two levels.
Morally, it is unacceptable for the league to continue forcing athletes to wear uniforms that publicly promote the iconography of a racial slur.
Economically, the continued use of the name potentially reduces revenues for players. According to an Emory University study of college teams, “The shift away from a Native American mascot yields positive financial returns.” With the NFLPA generating some of its revenues through merchandise sales, continuing to use the Washington team’s name forsakes the same positive financial returns that players could reap if the name were changed.
Last year, the current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith issued a statement to The Washington Post correctly noting that the Washington team’s name conveys “racial insensitivity” and declared that “I do not believe anyone should inflict pain, embarrass or insult, especially given the racial insensitivity” of the team’s name.
We applaud Mr. Smith for making such a bold statement, and we are asking that all current candidates for NFLPA executive director make similar public statements. But we are also asking that the candidates take it a step further by pledging to have the full membership of the NFLPA vote on a formal resolution to join the Change the Mascot campaign and to demand that the league change the team’s name.
As noted at the beginning of this letter, athletes are in a unique position to take up the cause of social justice – especially on an issue like this that is so intertwined with professional sports. In the spirit of solidarity that the NFLPA so often promotes, we hope you will stand with us in this critical campaign.
WASHINGTON, Sept 30 (Reuters) – The Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to punish broadcasters for using the moniker of the Washington NFL team, the Redskins, a word many consider a slur to Native Americans, the agency’s chairman indicated on Tuesday.
The FCC, which enforces broadcast indecency violations, has received a petition from legal activist John Banzhaf III, asking that regulators strip local radio station WWXX-FM of its broadcasting license when it comes up for renewal for using the name “Redskins.”
Banzhaf says the word is racist, derogatory, profane and hateful, making its use “akin to broadcasting obscenity.”
“We’ll be looking at that petition, we will be dealing with that issue on the merits and we’ll be responding accordingly,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters.
“There are a lot of names and descriptions that were used over time that are inappropriate today. And I think the name that is attributed to the Washington football club is one of those,” Wheeler added.
The FCC could formally deem use of the team name to be indecent, and thus impose a de facto ban on it on over-the-air television and radio.
Despite protests, vigorous lobbying and even intervention from President Barack Obama, team owner Daniel Snyder has vowed not to change the name of his National Football League team.
Some TV football analysts, including CBS’ Phil Simms and Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy, have said they will no longer use the term Redskins. On the other side, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, a Hall of Famer, says the issue is “so stupid it’s appalling.”
Half of the U.S. Senate asked the NFL to endorse a name change and the Washington Post editorial board has also said it will stop using the team’s name, although it will still be used in the rest of the paper, including the sports section.
In June, a panel of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademark registration because it considers its name and logo disparaging. The team has appealed the decision in federal court.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros Krasny and Dan Grebler)
Editor’s note: Last night “The Daily Show” aired a segment about Washington’s controversial football team nickname. The segment included the 1491s, a Native American comedy troupe the Indy has profiled and which includes Migizi Pensoneau, who lives in Missoula and contributes regularly to the paper. Migizi wrote the following behind-the-scenes account of the segment and how it came about.
A couple of weeks back, the 1491s got an email from a producer at “The Daily Show” hosted by Jon Stewart. They were recruiting for a panel discussion regarding the Washington Redskins, and the mascot controversy that surrounds the team. And they wanted us—a Native American sketch comedy/video group that tackles everything from Indian Country politics to fart jokes—to weigh in. As a writer, educator, satirist and smart-ass, I was excited about the opportunity. While we love the reach that YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet avenues provide, there’s something bewitching about being on national TV, and on a show we respect.
Less than a week after we got the email, three members of our group—including me—were whisked away to our nation’s capitol for two full days of shooting. The morning after we arrived, a Saturday, we learned more about the premise of the shoot. There would be two panels: pro-Redskins fans (as in, pro-mascot, pro-dressing up as Indian, anti-name changers) and anti-mascot activists, which included the three of us joined by five other indigenous panelists. The plan was to let the first panel make their case: talk about how the mascot honors Natives, that the name “Redskins” only refers to fans of the team and not Native Americans—standard pro-mascot arguments. Then, at a designated point, the host, Jason Jones, would ask, “Would you say all of this stuff directly to a Native American?” To which they’d presumably say, “Yes,” and then Jones would cue us to enter. The panel would be embarrassed, we’d be indignant, they’d be on their way—appropriately uncomfortable—and then we’d get our chance to talk.
After a long wait in an adjacent green room, completely cut off visually and aurally from the pro-Redskins panel, we were finally asked in. We entered the room, looked indignant, and there was a wonderfully uncomfortable silence. Jones played the buffoon, eating some wings and drinking a beer. But then, one of the pro-mascot fellas started to defend their position, and everything derailed. This is the part you don’t really see in its full glory on the segment: As some of the anti-mascot activists started in passionately on the issue, pro-mascot panelist Kelli O’Dell, who was previously employed by the Washington Redskins and whose Internet presence is devoted to her support of the team and mascot, started to cry. My ever-dapper 1491s colleague, Bobby Wilson, offered her his own handkerchief. It was an intense situation, but never mean-spirited. O’Dell, though, started to accuse us of ambushing and lying and “how dare you.” (Later, after the shoot but before the episode aired, it would be reported by the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Time, Gawker, Uproxx, Buzzfeed and CBS that she felt in danger and this experience would smear her name.)
Sobbing and accusatory, she and the others left. From there, we took a break to reset the room, and we did our panel. This one went incredibly well and I’m proud to have been a part of it. The producer, crew and Jones were wonderful to us, and we all walked out of there with hugs and smiles. It was 180 degrees from the previous panel, and we were happy about it.
The next morning, football Sunday, the three of us went to FedEx Field as part of the show. “The Daily Show” taped us wandering around the “Redskins Nation” tailgate, though that never made it on air. I, rather naively, thought maybe we’d be able use our presence at the tailgate as a way to showcase our humanity, and let the Washington Team know that there are Native Americans out there who are among them—real people not relegated to the eternal myth of history. Maybe we’d change a mind or two. Or, at least, maybe some ignorant hilarity could be caught on camera. It was worth a try, so with a camera crew following us, one little, two little and a third big Indian struck out into FedEx Field’s Redskin Nation tailgate.
That did not go as I’d hoped.
There were points during that hour-long experience where I actually was afraid for my life. I have never been so blatantly threatened, mocked or jeered. It was so intense, so full of vitriol that none of the footage ended up being used in the segment. I’m a big dude—6’1”, and a lotta meat on the bones. But a blonde little wisp of a girl completely freaked me out as I waited in line for the bathroom. “Is that shirt supposed to be funny?” she asked motioning to my satirical “Caucasians” T-shirt. And then she said, “I’ll fucking cut you.” Actually, she didn’t scare me so much as the wannabe linebackers standing behind her who looked like they wanted to make good on her threat.
On one level, I get it. I’m walking around with an ironic T-shirt on, being a Native in the middle of FedEx Field with a camera crew from “The Daily Show” nearby. But amid the jeers, mocking and threats, did I cry, and accuse them of ambush? No, because I knew what I was getting myself into. It’s “The Daily Show.” I know the format. More than that though, I didn’t back down or break down because I knew in my heart and conscience I was doing the right thing, as silly as the method may have been.
I think back to the tailgate: the man blowing cigar smoke in my face, the man who mockingly yelled, “Thanks for letting us use your name!”, the group who yelled at us to “go the fuck home,” the little waif who threatened to cut me, the dude who blew the train horn on his truck as I walked by the hood. I think of all of that, and I think back to O’Dell crying and trying desperately to get out of the room full of calm Natives. I thought she was crying because she was caught unawares and was afraid. But I realized that was her defense mechanism, and that by overly dramatizing her experience, she continued to trivialize ours. It was privilege in action. And as I realized these things, something else became incredibly clear: She knew she was wrong.
(CNN) — A Native American chief has asked all tribal employees not to use FedEx until the Washington Redskins changes its team name.
“Until the name of the NFL team is changed to something less inflammatory and insulting, I direct all employees to refrain from using FedEx when there is an alternative available,” Osage Nation Chief Geoffrey M. Standing Bear penned in his directive to all employees.
The tribe also issued a news release saying that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder “chooses to stick with a brand which dictionaries define as disparaging and offensive. FedEx chose to endorse that brand through their sponsorship of Mr. Snyder’s organization.”
It concludes, “The Osage Nation chooses not to use FedEx services. We encourage other tribal nations to consider similar actions.”
Standing Bear was not available for an interview, but Assistant Chief Raymond Red Corn said the tribe would “stand-pat” on the press release.
“It was not our intention to become a news item,” he said, adding that “ethics” drove the tribe’s decision.
Patrick Fitzgerald, FedEx’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, released a statement Wednesday saying that his employer values its sponsorship of the stadium and “we are proud that FedExField is a venue that is used by a wide range of community groups.”
“FedEx has closely followed the dialogue and difference of opinion concerning the Washington Redskins team name, but we continue to direct questions about the name to the franchise owner,” Fitzgerald said.
Snyder has repeatedly defended the name and wrote in a March letter that the name “captures the best of who we are and who we can be, by staying true to our history and honoring the deep and enduring values our name represents.”
The team has employed Native Americans to defend the name and launched a site called Redskins Facts to promote its stance that the names honors Native Americans rather than disparages them.
The good deed hasn’t stemmed the controversy as opposition to the name persists, and President Barack Obama said last year that if he were Snyder, he might change the name.
In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled six trademarks belonging to the team, saying they were offensive. The team appealed the decision, saying it spent millions defending the trademark, and the patent office ruled the Redskins could use the logos until the years-long appeals process was complete.
The National Congress of American Indians has spoken out against the use of Redskins and other Native American mascots, and the Native Voice Network, which represents numerous Native American organizations, has targeted FedEx in its effort to convince Snyder to change the team name.
The Native Voice Network says use of “R-word” has a negative, dehumanizing effect on children, a major concern when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Native American people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Chrissie Castro, the Native Voice Network’s “network weaver,” says her group “definitely” supports Osage Nation.
“We’re very proud of their position and we’d love to see other tribal communities do the same,” she said.
The Oklahoma tribe has about 18,000 members and is situated in Osage County, the setting for the Meryl Streep movie, “August: Osage County.”
When Samuel Henry was a kid growing up in D.C. in the late 1950s, he and his friends were devoted Washington Redskins fans — they had the jerseys and knew the lore. And as the lore had it, the “reddish-brown tint” of paint on the team’s downtown D.C. headquarters came from the blood of Native Americans. “When I was a kid, me and my friends, we really thought that they had captured and killed Native Americans and pasted them all over the building,” Henry said. “We were just kids, we didn’t know any better. But we really, honestly believed that.”
Now, almost 60 years later, the Redskins are enmeshed in a debate about whether their name is a racist epithet and should be changed. Advocates for keeping the name reference its origins: In 1937, owner George Preston Marshall changed the team name from the Braves to the Redskins. Marshall said the change was in honor of the head coach at the time, William Henry Dietz, who claimed to be part Sioux (although that claim is suspect). Critics including Henry say its origins are irrelevant and that the name is racist and demeaning. “I’d love to see a boycott of all things Redskins,” he said.
Dan Snyder, the current owner, purchased the team in 1999, when it was fighting its first legal battle over the name. The lawsuits have continued, and earlier this year, the Trademark Trials and Appeal Board canceled the franchise trademark because “a substantial composite of Native Americans found the term Redskins to be disparaging.” Snyder has faced mounting pressure to change the name, even from President Obama and George Preston Marshall’s granddaughter. But Snyder plans to appeal the trademark decision and says he will “NEVER” change the name. Polling suggests Snyder has the backing to ignore the calls; most NFL fans (and Redskins fans in particular) oppose a name change.
What’s considered an outrage in the NFL is embraced or at least tolerated all over the country. While we’ve been consumed by the debate about the Washington Redskins, we’ve overlooked thousands of team names and mascots depicting Native Americans, often stereotypically. These teams are not feeling the kind of pressure that Snyder is. To understand the Washington Redskins, we have to understand the Estelline Redmen, the Natick Redmen, and the Molalla Indians, too.
Terry Borning, the proprietor of MascotDB, has kept a database of the nation’s mascots since 2006. He gathers his data from a variety of sources, including state high school athletic associations, websites and local newspapers. Borning’s database doesn’t have every high school, college and pro team in the country, but it does have 42,624 of them. Looking at MascotDB is as close as we can get to understanding how prevalent Native American team names and mascots are across the country.
“There were a lot of interesting mascots where I lived growing up,” Borning said. “But those have mostly fallen by the wayside. Some of those things of the past were definitely offensive, but also more interesting than the generic mascots we have now.”
I searched the database and found 2,129 sports teams that reference Braves, Chiefs, Indians, Orangemen, Raiders, Redmen, Reds, Redskins, Savages, Squaws, Tribe and Warriors, as well as tribe names such as Apaches, Arapahoe, Aztecs, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chinooks, Chippewas, Choctaws, Comanches, Eskimos, Mohawks, Mohicans, Seminoles, Sioux and Utes. (Not all teams with the names “Raiders” and “Warriors” are referencing Native Americans, but we spot-checked 20 schools with each name and a majority of each did.)
Some 92 percent of those 2,129 team names belong to high schools (the rest were college, semi-pro, pro and amateur league teams). Of all the active high schools in the database, 8.2 percent have Native American team names.
I reached out to about a dozen of those high schools, and most didn’t want to comment on a controversy that hadn’t yet arrived. But the conversations I did have suggested that the way communities regard their teams’ Native American names and mascots depends on the makeup of the communities themselves.
Estelline High, home of the Redmen, is located in a small town in South Dakota, 24 miles west of the Minnesota border. South Dakota has the third-largest Native American population share in the country, but Estelline hasn’t seen the kinds of protests directed at the Washington Redskins. The town has experienced little, if any, controversy over the Redmen name.
The mascot dates back to sometime between 1915 and 1920, when a local newspaper referred to the Estelline athletic team by the color of its uniforms — “the men in red.” The name wasn’t officially adopted, but the team soon became known by its unofficial moniker, the Redmen. According to Estelline superintendent and high school principal Patrick Kraning, the association with Native Americans didn’t come until around 1930. Estelline followed with its own depiction of a “Redman” as a stereotype of a Native American chief wearing a headdress. Events such as the annual naming of a “Moon Princess” and “Big Chief” at homecoming became part of the tradition.
“There’s been very little controversy over the team name,” Kraning said. “In the ’90s there was some discussion about changing the name for a series of schools [throughout southeastern South Dakota] that still referred to themselves as ‘Redmen.’ But in the end, a lot of us — Estelline included — decided to keep the name and just keep away from any Native American imagery associated with it.”
Since then, the only symbol associated with the Estelline Redmen is a logo of an E with two feathers attached. Kraning believes that this change, combined with the fact that Estelline doesn’t have a significant Native American population, is why there hasn’t been much local debate on the topic.
“There’s a community feeling that since the origin of the nickname was not a Native American reference, there’s not a desire for change,” he said. “If there were a discussion, most people would probably view it as going against 80 or 90 years of tradition.”
Natick, Massachusetts, did go against tradition. In 2007, the school board dropped its high school mascot — also the “Redmen” — after an alumna of Native American descent came to the board and said she was offended by the activities surrounding the team she had experienced at Natick High School. The historian for the local Nipmuc tribe told me that the logo and mascot used by the school depicted a “stereotypical northern Native with a headdress,” but that depiction bore no resemblance to the actual indigenous people who lived in the Natick area. Nevertheless, protest groups soon sprouted up, claiming that the Natick Redmen honored Native Americans and were an important tradition.
Soon after the change, school board meetings and a town-wide referendum turned the issue into a much broader discussion. The main critique came from the Redmen Forever Committee, a self-described grassroots effort that sought to influence the non-binding referendum. “We added a question to the referendum asking if townspeople wanted the Redmen name restored,” said Erich Thalheimer, co-founder of the Redmen Forever Committee. “It won overwhelmingly, but the school committee didn’t abide by the town’s wishes.”
“If it were decided by popular vote, we would have the name,” said Anne Blanchard, a member of the Natick School Board. “But we had to take into account our nondiscrimination policy, as well as minority and majority interests.”
The Redmen Forever Committee says it won’t give up the fight. “We chose the name of our committee very intentionally, very purposefully,” Thalheimer said. “This is our town. We’re going to live here until we die. We will forever try to re-establish the Redmen name.”
While the controversy in Natick stemmed from a decision that affected one school, several states have taken a grievance from a single school and used it to forbid Native American mascots. One of the more sweeping bans so far was implemented with the help of Samuel Henry, the man who grew up earnestly believing that the Washington Redskins had painted their downtown D.C. headquarters with the blood of Native Americans. Henry is currently the chair of Oregon’s Board of Education, which instituted a statewide ban on Native American mascots and team names in 2012.
The story goes back to 2006, when Che Butler, a member of the Siletz tribe and a student at Taft High School, raised the issue before the board. Butler said he was offended by the stereotypical and inauthentic manner in which the mascot of a rival school, the Molalla Indians, portrayed Native Americans. He and fellow Taft student Luhui Whitebear, a member of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Tribe, made a presentation at a board meeting asking for a statewide ban on mascots that “misrepresent” Native people, who instead “should be represented with true honor and respect.”
According to Henry, the board agreed that “having Native American mascots did not seem like a good idea,” but decided to defer the decision.
The grievance was taken up again six years later, when the director of public instruction decided to put it back on the board’s agenda. This time around, after some member turnover, the board agreed to ask its chief attorney to draft a proposal for a ban on the use of Native American mascots in public schools. The only dissenting vote came from a woman who claimed that it was too selective, and that devils and saints should be banned as well.
As in Natick, one of the major arguments against the ban came from people who said that the mascots didn’t disparage Native Americans, but honored them. Many of these opponents knew little of Native American culture, Henry said. “I asked one of the students who made that argument what the name of the local Native American tribe was, and she didn’t know,” he said. “To me, that indicated that her reliance on saying that they were honoring Native Americans — that the support for that argument was pretty thin at best.”
For high schools, a statewide ban is about as sweeping as it gets. Graduate to the next level, though, and schools have broader authorities to answer to. In 2005, the NCAA implemented its own de facto ban1 on Native American mascots for all NCAA colleges.2 The ban focused on a specific list of schools whose mascots were deemed “hostile or abusive,” and precluded them from participating in postseason play if those nicknames or mascots appeared on any team uniforms or clothing.
The NCAA had already taken a stand on a similar issue: the use of Confederate flags. In 2001, the organization banned arenas in South Carolina and Mississippi from hosting postseason championships because the Confederate flag flew proudly on their statehouse grounds. After that decision, the president of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota asked the NCAA to impose a ban on Native American mascots.
The NCAA called on 18 schools (out of 1,046 total member schools at the time, or 1.7 percent) to drop their mascots.
Not all of the targeted schools felt that their nicknames or mascots were “hostile or abusive,” and the ban was followed by a surge of criticism.
“I must have gotten 2,000 emails from people just complaining about it,” the NCAA’s executive committee chairperson at the time, Walter Harrison, said. Even almost 10 years later, he still remembers one persistent caller. “He, or she, I don’t know if it was a man or a woman, would call my office phone at four in the morning and just play their school’s chant until the answering machine cut off,” he said.
But the more serious backlash came in the form of appeals. One came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its Fighting Illini. The Fighting Illini were portrayed at halftime performances by a student dressed in full Lakota regalia, including face paint and a headdress. He went by the name “Chief Illiniwek,” and became the focus of the university’s fight against the ban.
Controversy surrounding Chief Illiniwek predated the NCAA’s ruling by decades. The university’s board of trustees had been quietly in the process of considering a potential mascot change since 2001, and the publicity surrounding the nationwide ban reignited already-existing tension among students and alumni. Lawrence Eppley, who was the chair of the university’s board of trustees at the time, said he received hundreds of comments from foundations and alumni organizations threatening to withhold donations. He and the rest of the board figured the only option was to strike a compromise to keep both sides — passionate students and alumni and the NCAA — happy.
Through its appeal, the school was allowed to keep its team name, but not its mascot. Chief Illiniwek portrayers, who had been a part of an official student organization called the Council of Chiefs, could continue the tradition as long as the group no longer had any official affiliation with the university. “One of the things that made it tough to retire it was making sure the fans knew that, if you loved the chief, that was nothing to feel guilty about,” Eppley said. “It’s just that times change, and there’s not much we can do about that.”
Ivan Dozier, who currently portrays Chief Illiniwek, said that officially retiring the mascot was the wrong way for the university to respond. He believes that Native American mascots are a way to reach and educate an audience that wouldn’t normally be knowledgeable about Native American culture or history. “What concerns me is if you eliminate all references to Native American culture, people aren’t asking questions anymore,” he said. “Sports fans here are the vocal majority. They’re the ones who need this information the most, and now they have no way to go about getting it.”
Eight of the schools on the NCAA’s list secured vocal support from local Native American tribes to successfully appeal and retain their team names and mascots. Eight others have changed their names and one dropped the use of a mascot entirely. Carthage College changed its team name from the Redmen to the Red Men and dropped all Native American imagery, which satisfied the NCAA’s requirements.
Turning the Washington Redskins into the Red Skins is unlikely to appease the team’s critics, though. Given that the name is racist by definition and no tribe has come out in support of Snyder, it probably wouldn’t pass the NCAA’s grounds for appeal, and it certainly doesn’t pass in the court of Native American opinion.
But even if the Redskins became the Red Skins or the Red Flyers or the Red Snyders, there would still be thousands of other teams that reference Native American imagery. Whatever happens with the Redskins, there will still be the Estelline Redmen, Chief Illiniwek, and the West Texas Comanches, each upholding the questionable legacy of Native American sports names.
The Fort Yuma Quechan (Kwatsan) Tribe listened to an offer Wednesday from Washington NFL team owner Daniel Snyder’s foundation to build a memorial skate park on its reservation, according to tribal member Kenrick Escalanti, who attended two meetings with foundation representatives at the tribal administration building on the Arizona-California border.
“They told us it wouldn’t cost us a thing, that we wouldn’t have to say anything and we wouldn’t have to support” the franchise’s controversial team name, Escalanti told USA TODAY Sports. “They said they were not asking for an endorsement or a photo op, they just wanted to help. But if you know their track record, we didn’t really believe that. â?¦ We know bribe money when we see it. ”
Escalanti, president of Kwatsan Media Inc., said his organization, which is leading a drive to build a skate park, has turned down the offer from the team’s Original Americans Foundation. Tribal administrator Vernon Smith said the tribe has not reached a decision on whether to ask more questions of the foundation or to leave the offer on the table.
“We just listened politely and said we’d think about it,” Smith said. “They told us there would be no stipulations, but I have heard otherwise from other tribes who have received things from them.”
The foundation was represented by executive director Gary Edwards and director Karl Schreiber, plus a park designer, according to Escalanti. “They showed us digital renderings of a skate park and what struck me was the designs were all in burgundy and gold,” Escalanti said. Those are the colors of the Washington NFL team.
The team issued this statement from the foundation: “Tribal leaders from the Fort Yuma Quechan (Kwatsan) Tribe invited and met with staff from the Original Americans Foundation to discuss projects that needed funding in Yuma. The conversation centered around eight projects that the tribe requested assistance for projects that improved their quality of life and at no time during our on-site discussion did the tribe object to working with our foundation.
“We are very proud of the more than 145 projects in partnership with 40 tribes that we have worked on and will continue to do what we can for those in need. We will maintain our foundation’s policy of not disclosing our private conversations with tribal leaders.”
A team spokesman said a statement from the foundation would be released later today.
Escalanti’s description of the two meetings, which together lasted nearly an hour, open a window on the nonprofit announced by Snyder in March to help Native American causes. Foundation reps told the tribe that they have 147 projects lined up involving about 40 tribes across the country. Escalanti said the reps added that about 100 tribes, including his, have participated in a survey concerning their needs.
Escalanti said no dollar amount was mentioned, but he said the budget for the planned Quechan Memorial Skatepark is $250,000 and “they offered to build it, like a blank check.” Kwatsan Media Inc., a nonprofit that runs a radio station, is accepting donations for the skate park, which will be dedicated to suicide prevention in Native youth.
“When we told them the skate park would be dedicated to fallen Native youth, you could see their eyes open up big, like they could smell good PR,” Escalanti said. “And that really irritated me.”
The first meeting with tribal leaders, including three council members, lasted about 20 minutes and the second with Kwatsan Media about 30 minutes, according to Escalanti, who attended both. Smith said he was able to attend part of the first meeting.
One council member asked foundation reps why the team cares about Native American causes now, Escalanti said. “Edwards said they always cared and this is not an issue of the (team) name,” Escalanti said. “He said the reason it comes up now is the team and the NFL have a diversity policy and they are trying to live by that.”
The foundation representatives said they have helped tribes already with backhoes, jackets and boots, according to Escalanti, who said the reps “kept name-dropping tribe after tribe, and president after president, even though they were promising us we could have the skate park and nobody had to know” where the money came from.
Edwards addressed the team name issue, according to Escalanti: “He said he is a proud ‘redskin’ and that the controversy is a non-issue. He said it is inaccurate to call it a slur. He said the name stands for pride, courage and intelligence. And he said people who oppose the name are part of a white, liberal agenda.”
Escalanti said that Edwards made an impassioned plea for Native American strength against white aggression: “The last words he said to us were, ‘We need to get stronger, because if we don’t, they will annihilate us.'”
The Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which lead the national Change the Mascot campaign, responded today to reports that the blogger hired just two weeks ago to defend the Washington NFL team’s use of a racial slur is resigning.*
Oneida Nation Homelands, NY (PRWEB) July 08, 2014
Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata said in response to this latest development*:
“The growing opposition to the team’s name is about far more than any one person—it is a civil rights and human rights issue and it is time for the team and the NFL to stand on the right side of history and change the mascot.
“In trying to continue profiting off of a racial slur, Washington team officials have attempted to assemble a political attack machine, but that has only underscored their insensitivity. Dan Snyder selected a person who financially harmed Native Americans to run a foundation to defend his team’s name.** Then Snyder hired a blogger to defend the name, even though that person previously publicly insulted Native Americans and also references the team’s name in a list of racial slurs.*** The fundamental lesson in each of those humiliating episodes should be obvious: there is simply no way to justify promoting, marketing and profiting off of a dictionary-defined racial slur.
“The only tenable solution for the team is to recognize that the R-word racial epithet is deeply offensive to Native Americans, to quit pretending that this word somehow honors them, and to stop using this slur. If Dan Snyder wants to stop embarrassing himself, his team, its fan base and the NFL, then he should approach the issue of the name from an honest and genuine standpoint.”
*Blogger hired to defend Redskins name resigns after two weeks, 7.8.14, cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/24610931/blogger-hired-to-defend-redskins-name-re-signs-after-two-weeks
**Redskins foundation head drew criticism in I.G. report, 3.17.14,
***Washington’s blogger-turned-lobbyist faces scrutiny, 7.8.14, http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/07/06/washingtons-blogger-turned-lobbyist-faces-scrutiny/