The National Congress of American Indians released a report yesterday that explains just how offensive the legacy of the name Redskins is.
According to the NCAI, the report titled, “Ending the Legacy of Racism in Sports & the Era of Harmful ‘Indian’ Sports Mascots,” lays out the Washington football team’s “ugly and racist legacy” and details the organization’s position in explaining why the name is derogatory.
“The report NCAI has released today provides the history of an overwhelming movement to end the era of harmful ‘Indian’ mascots,” Jacqueline Pata, NCAI’s Executive Director, said in a statement. “Including the fact that Native peoples have fought these mascots since 1963 and no professional sports team has established a new ‘Indian’ mascot since 1964.”
The NCAI called on the NFL, MLB, NHL, other professional sports leagues, and all associated businesses to end the era of harmful ‘Indian’ mascots.
In a press release, the organization said that as sports teams’ brands emerged, they hoped to gain financially from mocking Native American culture.
“Each of these professional sports businesses attempt to establish a story of honoring Native peoples through the names or mascots; however, each one—be it through logos or traditions — diminishes the place, status, and humanity of contemporary Native citizens.”
In a public letter, dated October 9th and addressed to season ticket holders, the Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, said that the team’s 81-year history is not founded on racism. “As some of you may know, our team began 81 years ago — in 1932 — with the name ‘Boston Braves.’ The following year, the franchise name was changed to the ‘Boston Redskins.’ On that inaugural Redskins team, four players and our Head Coach were Native Americans. The name was never a label. It was, and continues to be, a badge of honor.”
The NCAI disagrees. Pata cites the team’s well-documented history of racism: “The team’s original owner, George Preston Marshall, named the team the ‘Redsk*ns’ in 1932, just months before he led a 13-year league-wide ban on African American players in the NFL,” Pata wrote in a release. “Nearly 30 years after the race-based name was chosen, Marshall was forced by the league to hire the team’s first black player in 1962. He was the last NFL owner to do so.”
In his letter, Snyder says that he respects those who are offended by the name, and will continue to “listen and learn from them,” but will preserve the team’s heritage.
That heritage, he says, includes support from Native tribes who are not offended by the team’s name. Snyder writes about Robert Green, the longtime Native American Chief of the Fredericksburg-area Patawomeck Tribe, who said, according to the letter, “Frankly, the members of my tribe — the vast majority — don’t find it offensive. I’ve been a Redskins fan for years. And to be honest with you, I would be offended if they did change [the name, Redskins…”
Jefferson Keel, NCAI President and Lt. Governor of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, has rejected the idea that the name is not offensive to Native persons. “[That name] originated in the bounty paid for Native body parts and human flesh. It does not honor Native people in any way, and has no place in modern American society,” he told ICTMN.
The report does not specifically address Green’s comments, but it does state that there were false claims made by the football team, which at one point claimed that NCAI leadership endorsed the use of the Redskins mascot.
The report, which can be read here, was released after Snyder’s letter circulated the web and stirred up an opportunity for provocative comments among readers, journalists, and activists.
The organization’s report also solidly relays its main concern that the use of stereotypical Indian mascots will harm youth – and lists 28 high schools that have dropped the 'R' word. “Removing these harmful mascots is just one part of our effort to encourage our children to achieve their greatest potential,” Pata said in the news release. “We’re focused on their future; these mascots keep society focused on the negative stereotypes of the past.”