COMMENTARY: “Redskins”: Just a name?

by Jan 5, 2015OPINIONS0 comments




How would you define yourself?  Native American, American Indian, Indian, Native, Indigenous, Aboriginal?  What about “redskin”?  By definition, it’s a dictionary-defined, racial slur that’s become an institutionalized slur by the NFL Team, the Washington Redskins.  It’s a topic of great controversy among the native community.  Many tribal nations, the state of Oklahoma, and many congressional representatives are urging change.  The National Congress for American Indians, the Native Voice, and other organizations are actively advocating against the name.  Even the media supports change and many are limiting or eliminating use of the term.  The team even lost the U.S. trademark in 2013 and the backlash against use of the name prompted President Obama to offer his opinion urging change.

This past November, the American Legion Steve Youngdeer Post 143 posted colors during a Washington “Redskins” game in honor of Veteran’s Day and Native American Recognition month.  It came as a great disappointment when their participation was featured as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, “Supporting the Name” on Washington’s team website.  The American Legion went to Washington in good faith and with honorable intentions.  The Redskin Foundation took advantage of that good faith and honorable gesture to further the support for the contentious “Redskins” name.

Not surprising, the team has created a foundation that is courting Native communities, reaching out to tribal leadership, hiring natives to lobby for them in support of the name.  We should not be so easily duped by their generous contributions.  The message we should send is that our dignity and self-respect are not for sale.  It’s worth much more than a few box seats at one of their games and token gestures of philanthropy throughout our Native communities.

In October 2014, the outgoing Chief of the Navajo Nation, Ben Shelly and wife, sat in box seats, wearing redskin hats, with Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, discussing a business venture, while protestors at the gate lobbied against the Redskins name.  Later, the incoming chief issued a statement saying the Navajo Nation can do business with the team’s owners when they change the Redskins name.

The Navajo Nation, as well as other tribes, has passed legislation that officially denounces the name.  Until passed by Tribal resolution, as supported by the people, we should not allow our participation in any event to be presented as support for the Redskins name or logo.  Our Tribe should collectively decide our official position on this issue, like the Navajo Nation did, and issue a bill either supporting it or not.   Until then, we should issue an official statement and have the Washington Redskins Foundation retract the “supporting the name” language from any of their press releases, web site, and other media outputs.

Throughout recent history, state governments and other teams have changed flags and names because they were found to be offensive to Black Americans.  We are entitled to the same respect.  Our self-identity is the core of who we are and how we move into the future as a people worthy of respect.   

Swayney is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army and an EBCI tribal member.