By WILLIAM LEDFORD
I’ve read a lot of comments regarding the racist slur used for the Washington NFL team. Mostly I’m baffled by the sheer ignorance expressed by supporters of the R word. The Webster dictionary identifies it as a slur and the US Trademark Office concurs. And now another reader’s poll states that the majority of Native people are OK with the slur used as a team name in Washington, DC. So, why the conflicting opinions?
The Annenberg Foundation, a well-respected fact checking entity, or so I hear, put out a poll in 2004 and just recently the Washington Post ran another. In both polls apparently an overwhelming majority of Native people supported the use of the slur. That news kinda surprised me as I’d never even heard of the Annenberg Foundation until the results of the poll were published, I had to do some research to see who they were. The Post? Not the kinda newspaper predominantly read on the Rez. I conducted a little more independent research. My findings? These polls were open to anyone that claimed to be Indian. Naturally these polls showed support because any Tom, Dick, Harry and Iron Eyes Cody could jump on, claim to be Indian and skew the results. It seems that the Annenberg Foundation and the Post didn’t bother finding actual Native people, you know, those folks that are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe based upon blood quantum or descendancy requirements to poll. They just assumed that people wouldn’t lie about something such as being Native to influence a poll.
When this subject comes up in the daily world I try avoid getting drawn into these conversations because I usually get irritated trying to define the difference between a Yankee, a Packer, a Cowboy, a Viking, a Fighting Irish and the Native race to allegedly intelligent people. My responses to this stuff usually get people riled and then it becomes fun to me. Let’s start with Viking. Not a race of people. Simply a job, a vocation, an endeavor. When Scandinavians of old went out raping, murdering and pillaging they went Viking, a word to describe raiding. Not a race of people. Not that good of a football team either. Cowboy. Again, there’s not a race of people called Cowboys. Heck, there aren’t any cowboys herding cattle on the trail anymore either, they’re mostly in the backyard abusing sheep. And they are an average football team, very average. Packer. Not a race, they were named after the meat packers of the factory sponsoring the Green Bay football team in the 30’s. A very good football franchise. Winners of 13 NFL Championships including a few Super Bowls. My team since 1965. I’ll sum up. Raiders, Patriots, Dolphins, Buccaneers, Eagles, Rams, 49ers, Steelers, etc. Not races of people.
We haven’t always been Indians. We used to be, and still are, Aniyunwiya, Dine, Lakota, Haisndayin until the Europeans came, we called them Yunega, Bili’ga’na, Wasichu, Man’gan’ii, and we became just Indians, or redskins. They didn’t see us as separate nations of different people but only a group of intruders squatting upon coveted land in a once empty continent. Heathen savages. That has always been a curiosity to me. How all of the land masses of the world were populated except for the continents now known as North and South America. That’s the strange reasoning that archaeologists cling to with unbridled passion even in the face of irrefutable proof via carbon dated artifacts that we have been here longer than this land bridge.
Again I ask. What are we? We see ourselves as simply people. Extremely proud people, even after the inhumane treatment at the hands of the White man since the year 1492, we remain proud. Many whites are under the impression that we no longer really exist and “honor” us by naming their sports teams after us and our “savagery”. It has to be that because why else would a competitive sports team have an “Indian”, a “Brave”, a “Warrior”, a “Ute” a “Redskin”, an “Illini” or a “Seminole” mascot dressed in plains war regalia screaming and performing some creative “war” dancing. There were many others but the NCAA came to its senses, passed rules that some disappointed whites deemed just “politically correct”, that word again, and college teams did away with the “honor”. To be fair, the University of Utah and Florida State University did pay big bucks to the Ute and Seminole Nations for the right to use their names but I still think that it’s cheesy and sleazy.
The White man, the label for descendants of the European visitors, colonists, conquerors of the Indians, were, in their eyes anyway, voyagers, travelers or explorers. The first expedition, led by a Viking named Leif Ericsson landed and built a settlement in the land called Greenland, encountered the Native population and engaged in hostilities with them. That seems to have always been the European way of dealing with “first contact”. Another notable example of Europeans landing was an ill-fated voyage west to the East Indies by an “explorer” and “navigator” named Christopher Columbus who got a little lost, slightly missed his mark and landed in what is now San Salvador. He wasn’t much of an explorer but he did prove that the world wasn’t flat and opened this continent up for invasion and infestation. Besides introducing this “New World” to slavery, he also brought some lovely venereal and other diseases to the Americas and killed a vast portion of the people he made contact with. Some explorer, right?
Back to the subject. We have been looked at mostly in the frame of stereotype as “drunken Indian” and “noble savage” among others. Funny stuff really, because I have seen a few drunk Indians on the streets of Albuquerque, standing with drunk Chicanos, drunk Whites and drunk Blacks but for unexplained reasons, those others were invisible to onlookers. Yes, many Indians do leave the reservation, their spirit sucked out them by their particular circumstances and end up on the streets of American cities. Many are ex-military veterans that fell through the cracks in the V.A. system, numbing the pain and the brain with cheap fortified wine or some ungodly concoction of high alcohol content mouthwash and hairspray when they can’t. But they aren’t alone. The economic policies of the Reagan Administration created an extremely poor class of people of all races that moved to the streets simply to survive. Only Indians seem to be noticed. The savage label I know was from our initial inability to grasp the notion of property ownership and the fact that we didn’t lie and therefore needed no signed documents. But as we have moved into the present, surprise! Many Indians have now learned how to lie as good as any white man. Indians have also become lawyers which mean they learned how to screw somebody over using an obscure language. We’ve become hated in the eyes of many people because we played the game according to the rules and opened casinos on our reservations. And since we reside and do business on Federal land, we don’t pay any property taxes to the state. That’s the main complaint, forget the fact that we pay a high percentage of our income to the state through the gaming compact, we’re “using our status to our advantage.” I’m confused, if a company negotiates a low or zero lease or property tax rates, which many such as Intel or Wal-Mart do, they are shrewd businessmen, but Indians are consider conniving for taking advantage of an unfair situation. Oh yeah, we are also evil because degenerate gamblers spend some of their money at our casinos instead of going to Las Vegas and spending all of their money there.
Ledford is an EBCI tribal member living in Albuquerque, NM.