The opening session of the United South and Eastern Tribes annual meeting featured Oneida Indian Nation Representative and CEO Ray Halbritter talking about the ongoing efforts to get the owner of the Washington, DC, football team to banish its racist "Redskins" name and mascot.
The USET meeting is hosted this year by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, NC, October 27-31.
Halbritter showed a video of a name change symposium, which took place in Washington Oct. 7. The symposium was the culminating event of a month-long Change the Mascot media campaign that included television spots throughout the country and was launched by the Oneida Nation, the parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network. The goal was to raise awareness that “redskins” is a racist slur that does not honor Indians – and it has to go.
But part of the problem, according to Halbritter, is that some people don’t even think it’s a problem. “Some people say, aren’t there more important issues?” Halbritter said. But with dozens of studies showing that racist slurs and demeaning mascot images have a profoundly negative psychological impact on Indian peoples who already suffer the highest rates of depression, low self esteem, suicide and a host of other health and social ills, “It may be the most important issue facing us,” Halbritter said.
There’s an easy solution that would appease those who don’t think the racist slur is an important issue. “All we have to do — all we ever had to do to solve their problem — is to just be quiet, just shut up, just go away, stop being who you are, stop doing your dances and just be good-looking brown people. Wouldn’t that solve all our problems? We wouldn’t have to argue with them anymore, we wouldn’t have to take on the NFL, the wealthiest franchise in the world.” But that’s an impossible solution because of the values that indigenous peoples are taught. “The world has always underestimates a people’s belief in themselves—we call it a fire in yourself, a fire that doesn’t die. That’s what we’re taught. We’re taught to look forward to the seventh generation. Everything we do is really for our children and their future.”
Because of Oneida’s hugely successful Change the Mascot campaign, the “redskins” issue is has been widely reported in the mainstream media –“finally for the right reason,” Halbritter said. People across the country have had their consciousness raised and are asking questions. Halbritter himself posed a question: “Why in the 21st century is this racist epithet still being used to market professional football team that is supposed to represent the capitol of a diverse, tolerant nation?”
He urged the tribal leaders and attendees to seize the moment to press the issue forward. “This is a moment to say that we will not be treated as a racial slur. We want to be treated as what we are, Americans,” Halbritter said.
Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis told the gathering that the word "redskins" is "a deeply rooted issue for the Penobscot people.” He talked about the Phips Proclamation, a savage 1755 edict by Spencer Phips, acting governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, that promised "bounty" to any settler colonist who "captivated" or killed Penobscot Indians. The proclamation declared the Penobscot Indians “to be Enemies, Rebells and Traitors” to the British crown and laid out a pay scale for the delivery of Penobscot scalps.
According to Francis, those scalps were called "redskins." "It was one of the most gruesome acts in terms of genocidal policy,” Francis added. “But there’s real value now in people knowing this history. … When this word gets used, it has a direct correlation to that history. I think this is a great opportunity not just to change the name but to have an in depth conversation about how we co-exist going forward."
The conversation and name-change efforts will continue when Halbritter meets with NFL officials in New York on Wednesday, October 30.