Racist team names should be changed

Elizabeth Santana, Staff Writer

“We are honoring Indians; you should feel honored,” supporters of the NFL team name “Washington Redskins” might say. Team owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the name, stating that he takes pride in it, and that it honors Native Americans. But is he really honoring us? Many Native Americans, including myself, beg to differ.

What people aren’t understanding is that these names are far from honoring us. “Redskin” is a derogatory term and a racial epithet. It was used when the U.S government paid for each “Indian” killed, and instead of carrying the bodies, the killer could bring the scalps to prove they had murdered a Native American.

The team logo is what appears to be a Native American man with braids and two feathers in his hair. Why is it okay for any person of any race to be categorized as a mascot when others include animals, like lions, tigers, and bears?

At Redskins’ games you can spot diehard fans wearing “headdresses.” As a Native American, I view headdresses as a sacred part of our culture and not something just anyone can wear. It is usually chiefs who wear them because wearing a headdress is something people have to earn. They are not for fans of a football team to take.

A fan wearing a headdress, even one that is not authentic, is making a mockery of the real thing. Teams seem to justify and even promote these actions, when they are completely wrong.

On November 7, about 800 Native Americans and supporters, led by the American Indian Movement, gathered to walk to the Metrodome when the Redskins played the Vikings. Protesters were carrying staffs, holding signs and banners expressing opinions such as “The R-word is equal to the N-word.”

I was finishing up an appointment at the Native American Community Clinic on Franklin avenue when I joined a large crowd outside by the parking lot.

The crowd was preparing to walk towards the Metrodome. I saw many news reporters and looked up to see two news helicopters covering the event as well. Friends and community members encouraged me to join the protest. I didn’t expect such a big turn out. I was stunned.

Leaders started to gather the youth and urged them to join the very front of the group. That’s when I really opened my eyes: this is our future we’re dealing with. Do we really want our youth to grow up with such stereotypical images representing their people?

Unfortunately, I was unable to continue much longer than walking a block with my community. On my commute home, I saw a few hundred more protesters coming from the American Indian Center down the street join the crowd. I was standing with my grandmother who was in awe. She wished she was capable of walking the distance to the Dome.

I hurried home and turned on the news. I couldn’t believe how many Natives I saw on the news, standing up for our people about something that shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. I was overwhelmed. It was a great day to be Indigenous.

With such large and obvious objections, brought up by the very people who are being portrayed, why are “Indian” mascots still so common?

My people are not mascots. It’s horrendous to think that many people don’t seem to bat an eye to a name such as

“Redskins,” but if  any other minority were in its place there would be many more reactions.

For instance, Coachella High School in California was recently criticized for their mascot, called the “Angry Arab.” Although there were some defenders, there was a general outcry and many people spoke out against the mascot. Why haven’t the Washington Redskins garnered the same level of general outrage?

I believe that since my people were slaves and brutally murdered due to attempted genocide, there are not many of us compared to the rest of the population. We all need to come together to show people that we’re so much more than a mascot and an ugly stereotype. When people live in an area lacking a Native population, they often forget that we still exist. We are still here.

Respect our culture because we are people just like you. We are not savages who run wild with feathers in our hair, as many Hollywood movies and other media show us to be. We aren’t here to be mascots.

But who is this really affecting? Native youth are growing up exposed to these stereotypical images and racial slurs, and these slurs are being treated as acceptable. This causes low self-esteem and low self-worth. It is important that they are being taught what’s right and wrong, and that our people are just as capable as everyone else at leading a successful life despite all these stereotypes being shoved in our faces. It is wrong in every way for a racial slur and an image of a Native American person to be used as a mascot.

Prominent news organizations , including the San Francisco Chronicle, have dropped the use of the “Redskins” name and  instead refer to the team as “Washington.” President Obama has urged the team to consider officially changing the name, however owner Dan Snyder said “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER.”