Sometimes you don’t realize the magnitude of an issue until it hits close to home. On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, I opened an email and to my disbelief I saw a flyer for the Washington Redsk*ns First Annual KTNN Celebrity Golf Tournament. The event was scheduled for April 12, 2014 at the Whirlwind Golf Club at the Wild Horse Pass Resort on the Gila River Indian Community. My hometown radio station’s fundraiser was being sponsored by Daniel Snyder’s Washington Redsk*ns Original Americans Foundation (OAF), an organization that believes it can meet the needs of Indian Country while mocking our identity and intelligence by using a racist team name to raise funds for our students.
Why would KTNN, “The Voice of the Navajo Nation,” accept a sponsorship from a controversial foundation whose name is a racial slur? Why is KTNN not following FCC broadcasting rules on the use of racial epithets? Why is the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President co-sponsoring an event with the Redsk*ns, even after legislation was introduced in the Navajo Nation Council opposing the NFL team’s moniker? How long has the sponsorship deal between KTNN, the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, and the Redskins been in place? How aware were other donors of the fundraiser’s affiliation with the Redsk*ns foundation?
Adding to my disbelief was seeing known anti-Redsk*ns organizations co-sponsoring the event. The Washington Redsk*ns golf tournament was a fundraiser to benefit Native American college scholarships and was co-sponsored by Navajo Engineering Construction Authority, Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise, Navajo Nation Office of President and Vice President, National Indian Gaming Association, and Dixon Golf. Many other organizations such as the Phoenix Suns, Phoenix Mercury, Diamondbacks, Arizona State University, and the Notah Begay III Foundation also donated silent auction items. An even more surprising co-sponsor of the event was the Navajo Nation’s Office of the President and Vice President. Shocking because the Navajo Nation Council was considering legislation opposing the Redsk*ns name, this was introduced on March 14, 2014 by Council Delegate Joshua Lavar Butler.
From a quick Internet search, I learned that although KTNN created a Facebook event on March 13 and marketed the event on March 21, they failed to mention the event’s title sponsor. In fact, the only mention of the OAF was on the event webpage and the flyer. Curious as to how aware sponsors and donors (especially those organizations who are anti-Redsk*ns) were made of the OAF’s involvement, I began notifying organizations. By Friday April 11, two donors, the National Indian Gaming Association and the Notah Begay III Foundation, withdrew their sponsorship of the event because of ties to the Redsk*ns name. Both organizations said they were unaware of the Redsk*ns’ involvement and would never have donated had they known. Likewise, on Saturday, April 12, the Navajo Nation Gaming Enterprise issued a statement indicating they would have declined sponsorship had they known of the Redsk*ns involvement, “We deeply regret not being told of the Washington Redsk*ns involvement in advance of today’s tournament.”
The actions of these three organizations could mean a few things: 1) The Washington Redsk*ns were a last-minute sponsor to strategically place themselves on the same event as Indian organizations who oppose the NFL team’s moniker, and/or 2) KTNN, aware of the Washington Redsk*ns sponsorship, lacked insight on the controversy and didn’t care to inform other donors. The event flyer I received was dated April 3, 2014 proving that, at minimum, KTNN had at least one week to notify other donors (this assumes the title sponsorship was accepted at a last moment which casts further unfavorable light on the Redskin’s attempt to purposefully taint the event). The actions and lack of action from KTNN’s leadership raises concern about the organization’s leadership, ability to recognize potential controversy, and their ability to actively communicate with their sponsors and, more importantly, with the public.
The happenings around the Redsk*ns KTNN event, addressed as the “#KTNNscandal” on social media, are further alarming because of KTNN’s misconduct in suppressing the voice of the Navajo people by deleting comments of opposition on their Facebook page. Why would they do this? The scandal began to pit people against each other with most supporting a protest and boycott of KTNN while others defended the cause of the event willfully unaware of the underlining issue. Surely, this was Daniel Snyder’s tactic; divide a community by turning themselves against each other.
Another tactic of Snyder’s is to launder hush money through the guise of student scholarships. Yes, Native students need funding to attend college but not at the expense of their dignity. KTNN only had to decline one sponsor, the Washington Redsk*ns OAF, rather than lose the support of two national Native organizations. What type of statement does this send to Native organizations? Is KTNN’s position that one non-Native organization is better than two or more Native organizations combined?
As more Natives are living off of Tribal lands we are faced with the realization that stereotypes about us exist. By not acknowledging that racial stereotypes HURT our youth, you are minimizing the struggles many face, often when they leave their tribal communities to obtain a higher education.
The Washington Redsk*ns have been in the news for their massive PR push to get buy-in from Indian Country for the use of their “Native” mascot. Most recently they “honored” the Navajo Code Talkers for their service during an NFL halftime show parading our heroes in Redsk*ns gear. Now their organization’s OAF is funding scholarships and making other small donations to suddenly support Native America because, you know, everyone needs a Redsk*ns jacket. The latest tactic of becoming lead sponsor for KTNN’s fundraiser shows Snyder is choosing very specific events hoping to divide Native Americans on the controversy. Who wants to oppose someone “honoring” our heroes… who wants to oppose someone providing scholarships for our youth… their PR machine is a very cunning and decisive beast in the battles it is choosing to support.
Or more specifically, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington NFL team, is cunning and decisive. Snyder has been quietly meeting with Indian leaders to find out what Indian Country’s most pressing needs are, allegedly including Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly. However, no Indian leader has publicly come forward to discuss their meeting and what Snyder wants in exchange for his “charity.” Why are Snyder and Tribal leaders unwilling to share their discussions? Why are Tribal leaders placing government transparency on the backburner in exchange for a meeting with Snyder? Where is the transparency? Who do they represent?
“Unless you are trying to hide something, the press should be your ally.” — Jay E. Hakes, Director, Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.
Nicholet Deschine, Hunkpapa Sioux/Diné, holds a Master of Social Work and is currently studying public administration at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs.