In Lakota stories, one of our traditional characters is a spider named “Iktomi." He got himself in all kinds of predicaments because he was selfish, greedy, and told lies. Iktomi is a trickster. Keep Iktomi in mind when you read Washington football team owner, Dan Snyder’s, communiqué from last month.
In his letter to Washington Racists fans, Snyder announced the creation of his Washington R******s Original Americans Foundation, or OAF for short. A charity designed to aid Native Americans in their day to day hardships of being Indian. He speaks of going on a “goodwill tour” visiting tribes, speaking to real live Indian people, and becoming enlightened to the needs of a poor, dirty, destitute, crawling-on-our-bellies-in-the-mud people who need the help of good and charitable people like him. His letter is a blow-by-blow analysis of how dreadfully penurious we are! Thank goodness for Dan Snyder to come and list all of our troubles and woes because there were probably some people believing that whole “Indian heritage of nobility and honor” thing. Glad he nipped that in the bud. Inferring from his letter, a more accurate team name should be the Washington I-Don’t-Have-a-Toilet-In-My-House-Skins. And yes, of course, I’m being sarcastic.
Snyder’s letter says much of what he has always said, referencing the “deep and enduring values [the team] name represents”. He left out that they were the values of greed, exploitation and genocide. He had a word limit, I guess. He wrote that “overwhelming majorities” are not offended by the name. It’s funny because it’s not overwhelming majorities that are Native. Last time I checked, we were still that other 1%. And this may sting for many of you non-Natives, so brace yourselves, but your opinions on this particular matter – don’t matter. It’s like you watched someone on TV get struck by lightning. Someone else comes along and asks you if that hurt!?! Proceeded by you screaming at the TV, “That shouldn’t hurt you!” I hear the opposition saying, “Well, Ms. Crystal, what about my 2nd cousins’, next door neighbor’s, podiatrist’s Grandmother who is a Full-Blooded Cherokee Indian Princess Queen and she doesn’t care.” To this little unicorn fantasy of a woman I say, good for you! But the voice of one cannot and should not Never-Ever-Never speak over the voices of the many. Look at the apocalyptic political landscape around us to see its terminus.
By the same token, tribal leaders must not be dazzled by the trinkets and beads of this Trickster. Yes, we have our struggles, but we are on this journey with or without Dan Snyder’s blood money. I’d rather have my dignity than a coat or shoe from Snyder just so he can keep his cussed name and sleep at night. To those in dire straits, there are other organizations that actually respect Native culture and would never think for a second that the R-word is a good name to call anyone. Remember where we come from, we are not a people who worship money. Our ancestors died rather than sell-out their values. Have we forgotten that? Tribal leaders must stand united against the R-word and any organization Dan Snyder hides behind as he continues to put a price on dignity and common decency. That is all his smoke screen Original Americans Foundation amounts to.
Dan Snyder’s letter was full of lip-service and efforts to distract such as, “…the more resolved I became about helping to address the challenges that plague the Native American community…they need action, not words.” And this chestnut, “…too many Native American communities face much harsher, much more alarming realities. They have genuine issues they truly are worried about, and our team’s name is not one of them.” Wait, what?
He goes on to list the poverty rate on reservations, the physical and mental challenges and criminal activity of Natives. He wrote, “Life expectancies in high poverty Native American communities are the lowest anywhere in the Western Hemisphere – except for Haiti”. I guess that’s a good thing since we’re so poor and lawless?? Poor infrastructure rounded out his to-do list of saving Indian people from themselves.
The part that made me want to vomit the most was when he said, “These aren’t rare circumstances. These are the unfortunate facts found through Indian country today. I’ve listened. I’ve learned. And frankly, it’s heart wrenching. It’s not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans. We must do more. I want to do more. I believe the Washington R******s community should commit to making a real, lasting, positive impact on Native American quality of life…”
From there he aggrandizes the legitimacy of OAF citing his seriousness about his cause and working quietly and respectfully, away from the spotlight. Hence the need for press.
Get ready for the prize in the Happy Meal, Dan Snyder ends his letter with, “We have so much, yet too many Native Americans have so little”.
To Dan Snyder, you haven’t learned any new tricks. You couldn’t become enlightened by a flash light, much less the living conditions of another people. Your intentions are pretty apparent and abhorrent. You wear a mask of charity, but we see right through. Do you think Native people have never come across someone like you? You and the organizations you are associated with are throwbacks to the Andrew Jackson days of Indian Policy, and throwbacks to slavery. As long as you throw money at something, you can have your way. You use and exploit minority populations for your own financial gain. Then hide behind PR and illegitimate charity. You twist your words and try to conquer with humiliation all the while praising that which you seek to destroy. That’s as Iktomi as they come.
Keep your “charity." Keep your money. Keep your blankets. Keep your 30 pieces of silver. Like I said before, we don’t want your “honor”—we don’t need it. If we have problems, and I am not saying we don’t, it is up to US to fix them, not YOU.
“For too long, the struggles of Native Americans have been ignored, unnoticed and unresolved." Dan Snyder’s words. Well, I guess even the Devil quoted scripture.
Just change the name.
Crystal Willcuts Cole, Mnicoujou Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member, was born in Rapid City, South Dakota and is an artist, writer, and poet currently residing in Big Stone Gap, Virginia with her husband and two children.