While the Washington Redskins continue to lose in what is turning out to be a forgettable season, their name, and especially their nickname, isn’t getting off the headlines, as it seems everyone has an opinion about whether or not the franchise should find itself a new one.
Roger Goodell, who has only one thing leading his decision making (the marketability and money making ability of the NFL), has said that even if only one person is offended by the name, they should start listening to suggestions. Barack Obama has said it’s time for the Washington team to change its name.
The Redskins have been around since 1932, beginning as the Boston Braves before changing into the Boston Redskins a year later and moving to Washington in 1937. The debate around the name became prominent in the early 1990’s after the team won the Super Bowl in 1992. Native Americans started writing letters to owner Jack Kent Cooke encouraging him to change the name. Others boycotted Redskins products and protested. There was a large protest in Minnesota, where the Super Bowl was held.
The National Congress of American Indians has issued a report summarizing opposition to Indian mascots and team names generally, and the Washington Redskins in particular. However, when surveying those 5.2 million that are either enrolled in 566 federally recognized tribes or others who tell the census they are Indian, there’s no clear picture of what’s the popular opinion.
Many Native American schools call their sport teams Redskins. To many its a way of getting a more mainstream recognition of their history and culture. The term is used affectionately by some natives, similar to the way the N-word is used by some African-Americans. In the only recent poll to ask native people about the subject, 90 percent of respondents did not consider the term offensive, although many question the cultural credentials of the respondents.
According to Tommy Yazzie, superintendent of the Red Mesa school district on the Navajo Nation reservation, it really isn’t a big deal.
Our high school football team is called the Red Mesa Redskins. We just don’t think that the name is an issue. There are more important things like busing our kids to school, the water settlement, the land quality, the air that surrounds us. Those are issues we can take sides on. Society, they think it’s more derogatory because of the recent discussions. In its pure form, a lot of Native American men, you go into the sweat lodge with what you’ve got — your skin. I don’t see it as derogatory.
Eunice Davidson, a Dakota Sioux who lives on the Spirit Lake reservation in North Dakota, doesn’t think it’s really a problem.
It more or less shows that they approve of our history. I would say to Dan Snyder that I stand with him. We don’t want our history to be forgotten.
But there is also a different side to this, like Indian activist Suzan Shown Harjo, filing a lawsuit seeking to strip the “Redskins” trademark from the football team. According to her, a 2004 poll that suggested over 90% of 768 people identifying themselves as Indian don’t find the ‘Redskins’ name offensive, didn’t ask the right questions.
Are you a tribal person? What is your nation? What is your tribe? Would you say you are culturally or socially or politically native? People taking on what has been said about them, how they have been described, to such an extent that they don’t even notice.