The controversy which is raging over the use of the name “Redskins” by the Washington NFL team is reaching a new level of volume and negativity. For over 80 years the team has clung to its name, but there have been a number of times in its history when the name was challenged. Of late, the charge of racism against the owners of the team has sparked new voices, including the President of the United States.
There is a growing consensus that the name is, indeed, racist, and that it should be changed. But there is a lot of money behind a move to protect the right of the Washington, D.C., team to retain its 8 decade name. In a society in which “money talks” it is fearful that the resolution will not be easy.
The claim that the name “honors” the Native American community is shallow. It is one thing to be the Cleveland Indians. That is a name that is inoffensive and does, indeed, have the capability of honoring an American Indian presence in our nation. But when you think about the name “Redskins” it becomes clear that there is only one way of identifying the meaning of the word…it points directly to the color of the skin of an important segment of the American population. It would be comparable to calling the San Francisco Giants the “Yellowskins” to supposedly honor the high number of people of Asian heritage who dwell in and around San Francisco. People would be in an uproar about the racist implications.
Or, what if the New Orleans team were to carry the name the Blackskins, in “honor” of the large number of African-Americans who dwell in New Orleans. They wouldn’t begin to think about such a thing. A city that honors its team with the name “Saints” isn’t about to jump into a racist controversy by embracing such a contentious and inappropriate name.
So, why is the name “Redskins” being protected? As one who has embraced a foster daughter who is a prominent Oglala Sioux and a son who is a Chippewa, I don’t have to think about it very much to recognize it as the continuing degradation that the Native American community has faced for centuries. Instead of being honored for their heritage and their occupancy of this land long before Europeans began exploiting it, the American Indian population has been isolated, beaten up, deprived, and ridiculed. It is only in the last decade or two that the movie industry has begun to give legitimate roles to American Indians, and begun depicting them as a proud, intelligent population.
Treaties and agreements to compensate American Indians for their forfeiting of land rights to non-Indian developers over the past three centuries have been broken, disregarded, and forgotten by this nation. The populations that live on Indian “Reservations” live, in most cases, in squalor. Their education opportunities are limited. Their ability to progress is stifled.
“Today, there are approximately 560 federally recognized Native American tribes within the United States. Many face problems such as poverty, alcohol abuse, and heart disease.” *
While there are wonderful stories about American Indians who have escaped the poverty of the reservations to become successful in many ways, the great bulk of the Indian population remains in second-class citizenship. The onset of the Casino industry and its relationship to the American Indian people has brought new money into the tribes, but it remains to be seen if it will have the effect hoped for…to bring the population out of poverty and into a new level of success and possibility. The discovery of oil beneath the North Dakota lands has given rise to speculation of “new money” to bring relief to the Native American population. But most of the stories I’m reading about the oil boom in North Dakota fail to mention any benefit to American Indians.
So, to get back to the point, the use of the racist term, Redskins, to describe a football team in the NFL has little credibility with the thinking segment of the concerned population. It is time for the team owners to follow the lead of the High School in Cooperstown, NY, which had shared that name for their sports teams for many years. They have chosen to replace the name with that of the ” Hawkeyes”, honoring the hero of James Fenimore Cooper’s writings. His stories took place in Cooperstown and the immediate area. It is a creative way of retaining an American Indian interest without degrading the very people whose heritage is being honored.
I’m sure there is someone in the Washington area (or the nation) that can be just as creative for the NFL team.
Photo Credit: NFL wallpapers