(QUICK NOTE: Some within the Indian Country Today Media Network made a big deal and speculated that the Original Americans Foundation put a warning about Zuni Pueblo artists not being drunk when selling their wares; the truth is that warning was handed down from the Zuni governor and NOT the Original Americans Foundation. Really, that warning is NO different than the warnings that Tribal Governments/Pow-wow committees regularly give to tribal members during large pow-wows and/or Canoe Journey or other large tribal functions. That speculation/critique on behalf of the folks at ICTMN was goofy—unless they’re going to critique EVERY time a Tribe warns their own members not to drink or use drugs during large events—and so will not be the subject of this article. There are PLENTY of nasty things to legitimately critique Dan Snyder and the Original Americans Foundation for, so we don’t need to make stuff up).
“My judgement is toward OAF. I could be wrong but I feel that OAF is using that weakness of our people by offering much needed money. All of my judgment is towards the organization, for trying to pretend that they can fix Native America…while at the same time disregarding the vocalized discontent with the team name.”
—Monique Escalanti, eloquently speaking about the Original Americans Foundation
We’ve got to love and not judge our folks for feeding their families.
Let me explain: The Original Americans Foundation—the non-profit organization that Dan Snyder started to obscure some of the criticism that the Redskins’ have received—is going to the Zuni Pueblo to help some of the artisans. Anybody who knows Zuni Pueblo knows that this remote village is far away from mainstream economic opportunities and is supported largely by tourist money. Beautiful place, beautiful art. Lots of artisans. Lots of poverty.
Just like many of our homelands—powerful, beautiful, yet broke.
The Original Americans Foundation has gone to some of the other most economically vulnerable Native communities as well to create programs where programs are desperately needed. Rocky Boy, Browning, probably others. These places are remote and struggling economically. In these struggling places, unfortunately there’s not a surplus of folks saying, “We want to help you start a youth basketball league for your kids," or "We want to help you buy back-to-school clothes for your kids.” Not a lot of programs. And it’s not an accident that he’s picking our most economically vulnerable communities—money talks in those places. People are hurting. Electricity bills need to be paid, kids need to be fed, and money is incredibly scarce in these areas. It’s a different reality than that of the Tribes who are fortunate enough to be near large population centers and have meaningful economic development—no, “remote location” usually means “broke.” God bless those Tribes who have created incredible economic development within their homelands—that is important and beautiful and creates a lot of options that many folks without those resources don’t have. But those are not the Tribes Dan Snyder is going after and there’s a very simple reason why.
No, Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation is going into the most impoverished Native communities and presenting shiny things in exchange for perceived or real acceptance of the Redskins name/logo. That presents an interesting conundrum. Obviously Dan Snyder's foundation is engaging in ugly and predatory economics, seeking to pick off Indian Country's most vulnerable communities with pennies on the dollar. That's bad. Yet, these brothers and sisters have to eat. They should be able to eat. They should be able to take care of their kids and pay their bills as long as they’re doing it legally. They should be able to do those things without criticism.
In fact, we should be the last ones criticizing our own people for feeding their families. Whites with white privilege is bad enough—we don’t need Natives with it too.
It's easy to criticize and say what vulnerable Natives and communities should or should not do—privilege compels many to judge these economically vulnerable Natives’ behavior. We’ve seen it: “Not for sale." "Don't sell out," and similar simplistic declarations. Memes. But memes don't pay bills or feed children or create jobs in these communities of 60, 70 or 80% unemployment.
Our most vulnerable communities need real help, not memes.
Perhaps it might be a good idea for Natives who DON'T want our most vulnerable brothers and sisters to be tempted to take Snyder's bribe money to look for solutions instead of simply criticizing and/or playing armchair quarterback; to be constructive and have empathy instead. These are literally some of the poorest communities in the country and many rely upon their artwork and programs to support their kids and family. In short, if Dan Snyder (or ANYBODY) is creating a structure for our most vulnerable in our brokest communities to feed their kids (and we are NOT doing anything to help these brothers and sisters to feed their kids), we're ultimately judging Native poverty, We're blaming our sisters and brothers for doing something about that poverty and feeding their kids. It's easy to judge poverty (Republicans do it all the time); the larger issue is the structural poverty that creates these situations where our people CAN be economically exploited.
Some people say, when folks assert that there are more pressing issues than the Redskins, “We can do both at the same time—we can address both at the same time.” Cool!! I believe that we can too!! BUT…here’s where the rubber meets the road; if we say we can do both at once, here’s the perfect chance. We can simultaneously: 1) create a structure that helps our most vulnerable communities (and individuals within those vulnerable communities) that will 2) also help the fight against the Redskins. There’s ways to do it—one of my mentors, David Bean, has been working to help Native entrepreneurs for years. The First Peoples Fund helps Native artists to monetize their talent and improve their business savvy so they can’t be taken advantage of. People ARE doing this important work. The thought is there—now it simply needs broader application and all of our participation. It needs for us to put our money where our mouths are.
Here’s the perfect chance to prove that, yes, we can and will do two things at once—help the vulnerable within our communities and work to defeat this very privileged, very racist white man Dan Snyder.
There absolutely should be judgment here—but that judgment should only be for Dan Snyder and his organization. We should judge them for their patronizing arrogance toward Native people. We should not EVER judge our people, who are simply trying to feed their families and communities.