“Riding cross the desert on a horse with no name….. Entering football and hockey season with a team with no name.. . .” That’s gonna be a challenge.
I am not much of a football fan. That I will totally admit. I am, however, not a fan of racist mascots. So it is that I joined 4,000 or so other people at the University of Minnesota stadium on Sunday November 2, to challenge the Washington National Football League team and its mascot. I was in good company.
“The choice the Washington NFL team is making to use a racial epithet for its name is an offense to the values of the people of Minneapolis,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told the crowd. “It is baffling that in 2014 a company would retain the use of a racist logo for its product. From a human standpoint it is reprehensible and from a business standpoint the brand becomes more tainted every day.” She chastised the team for being "last millennium" in its behavior.
Almost 30 speakers and performers spoke on a beautiful Sunday to a jubilant crowd. The Change the Name rally was multi-cultural and upbeat. Spike Moss, representing the NAACP, said that if this was a problem for Native people, it was a problem for African Americans. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura stepped up to the microphone to support the cause, and Amanda Blackhorse, the Dine woman who filed a lawsuit against the Washington Redskins spoke eloquently. Everyone did.
The “Red Skins” name is in itself referring to the skins of Native people, which were presented by bounty hunters for payment in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Susanne Shown Harjo -- the original plaintiff in the 1993 lawsuit Harjo et all against National Pro Football suit and a leading advocate on this case -- explained the meaning of the R-word and why it is a slur against Native Peoples:
“The use of that name harkens back to a time when we were actually skinned by bounty hunters who turned in our skins for payment. So, you had companies, colonies and states that issued bounty proclamations for dead Indians. And what were presented as proof of Indian kill were the bloody redskins. Those who close their eyes to the origin of this word are simply not dealing with the reality of the practice of skinning our people. But even if you don’t know that and don’t care about what happened then, the use of a description of someone’s skin color is wrong. And when it occurs solely in a particular area, you’re talking about invidious discrimination. You would not see a day where its corollary would be used to describe any other races or ethnicities of people. “
The Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission notes that the American Psychological Association and the National Congress of American Indians strongly oppose the use of derogatory and disparaging Native American sports names and mascots. Studies link the mascots to lower self esteem and a feeling of being marginalized by Native people, with longer term emotional impacts.
It’s a bit ironic how long the Washington National Football League team has held fast to that name. Hundreds of colleges and high schools have changed their names. The National Congress of American Indians first made the appeal in l968, most of my lifetime ago. The University of Oklahoma retired its “Little Red" mascot in 1970. Marquette University abandoned its Willie Wampum mascot in 1971. In 1972, Stanford University and also Dartmouth College had changed their mascots' names. The University of North Dakota is having some problems with this issue as well, and is between nicknames, having dropped "Fighting Souix" in 2012. That’s been a battle, to say the least, and they’ve got this “cooling off period” before they choose mascot, scheduled to happen in 2015.
So for all of you wondering, I’m often asked if I can give an Indian name to someone. Now, I haven’t been asked to give sports teams names yet, but there may be some options on this. I’m thinking that the North Dakota team might be...well, the Sandbaggers, which is what you get when you build your city in a flood plain, and you get good at it. Or the Frackers...that may be a short-term solutionand could be bitter sweet, I admit. Okay, I know that won’t fly, but thought I’d offer it.
And for the Washington team, maybe the Washington Drones. That sounds promising -- and accurate, too. After all, someone might actually refer to you in the paper if you get a name people like. Right now, most major newspapers and much of the media won’t even call the Washington team anything besides the Washington team. Bummer to be the team with no name.