Native view: Time is past for Redskins name to be forever gone
Two weeks ago today I participated in one of the most powerful events I've attended this year: a peaceful demonstration of more than 4,000 Native American people and non-Native allies against a derogatory team mascot and team nickname that is the...
Two weeks ago today I participated in one of the most powerful events I’ve attended this year: a peaceful demonstration of more than 4,000 Native American people and non-Native allies against a derogatory team mascot and team nickname that is the worst racial slur for Native people in the English language. I was honored to share the stage with other tribal leaders, members of Congress, former professional athletes and members of the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media. Together, we stood against those like Dan Snyder who seek to denigrate our beautiful culture with racial slurs and cartoons.
In general, the media coverage of this moving event in Minneapolis, held before a Minnesota Vikings game, reflected it in a fair way. However, I did note that the St. Paul Pioneer Press article, reprinted in the News Tribune, devoted six paragraphs to one Indian person from Montana who was not offended by the name. The story also cited the results of his “informal poll;” 95 percent of the Native people he asked do not find the word offensive, he said. I noticed some television media outlets also tried to include this same minority viewpoint from a Native perspective.
This was interesting to me because about 100 percent of the Indian people in Minnesota I know do find the word offensive. This made me wonder: If we were protesting the use of the n-word would the media have sought out the one African-American in the crowd who thinks there’s nothing wrong with it? Would his claims of informal polling be treated as newsworthy and beyond scrutiny?
Like every other group in America, Native people do not all hold the same viewpoints on every issue. Some outlets put effort into trying to find that one Native person who would say exactly what Snyder’s supporters wanted to hear: Indians feel respected by this racial slur, so please keep using it without any feelings of guilt or discomfort.
Never mind that 21 years ago the National Congress of American Indians, which represents more than 250 Indian tribes, passed a resolution condemning the name of Washington, D.C.’s football team. Never mind that the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, which includes the 11 federally recognized tribes in Minnesota, passed a resolution against the name. Never mind that the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, representing 40,000 Anishinaabe people in Minnesota, has passed a resolution condemning the name.
“Redskins” comes from the bounties once paid for Indian scalps. There is a small minority of Native people who do not feel offended by this word, but if a reporter visited any reservation in Minnesota, I guarantee he or she would find the vast majority of Native people feel deeply offended by it. The perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Native Americans contributes to a pervasive degradation of our culture and heritage - and the negative impact on the self-image of tribal members, especially children, is real.
The Nov. 2 protest should have made one thing clear to all Minnesotans and to all Americans: The Washington team name is racist and must be changed.
Let me close with a quote:
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the 16th century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or to feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it.”
When Martin Luther King Jr., shared these thoughts in 1963, he was dreaming of a land where children were measured by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. I believe he would have been on the stage with us on Nov. 2 because he wrote these thoughts in a book, “Why We Can’t Wait.”
By the way, I took an informal poll among my grandchildren, and they can’t wait. Change the name.
Melanie Benjamin is chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in east-central Minnesota. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.