An Open Letter to the Owner of the Washington Redskins [Opinion]

Opinion

We’re more than half-way through November and for Native Americans like me, that means we’ve made it through Halloween–a holiday that makes Indigenous people groan at Pocahotties and Indian braves costumes. Once we get past the construction paper headdresses that Thanksgiving brings, there’s still just one more issue to tackle on the calendar: Washington’s NFL team, the Redskins.

Are you listening, Dan Snyder? Your Washington NFL team needs a name change.

Countless organizations and news outlets have come out in support of that change and have agreed to stop using your team’s name at all:

  • President Obama
  • Mayor of Washington DC, Vincent Gray
  • The Oneida Indian Nation
  • Sports Illustrated’s site Monday Morning Quarter Back
  • Slate
  • Washington City Paper
  • The Kansas City Star
  • MotherJones
  • New Republic
  • Native American Journalists Association
  • American Indian Movement
  • Washington, D.C. City Council
  • Rep. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y.
  • Kat Williams

…just to name a few!

But if TMZ’s got it right, Dan – never going to change the name – Snyder, you may be renaming your team the Washington Bravehearts, you’ve missed the point.

As I’ve explained before in an opinion piece about why Native American imagery is wrong, “Cultural exploitation for profit in the name of respect is not how you honor a minority group. You honor someone important with a building named in their honor, a street named after them, a scholarship fund in their name or a key to the city–not a sports mascot.”

So, even if you change your name and get rid of the racial slur, by using arrows, bows, and stereotypical Indian caricatures, you’re still being culturally insensitive. Having Native American mascots means high schools will think it’s okay to say this: “Hey Indians, get ready to leave in a trail of tears. Round 2.” to an opposing football team. In case you were wondering, the Trail of Tears is not a humorous part of United States history and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Thousands of Native Americans died after being forcibly removed by President Andrew Jackson, who as we all know, was honored with his portrait on the $20 bill.

In all honesty, all Native American imagery needs to go. (Yes, I’m looking at you: Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Chicago Black Hawks…among others.)

Maybe you’d see us as more than a fictitious character if you knew we take the same subway trains and highways that you do when driving to work. Maybe you’d understand how dehumanizing mascots are if you realized we are teachers and doctors and lawyers and federal judge appointees and journalists…Maybe if mainstream media paid more attention to us when good things happen than when there’s a story on:

  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Poverty and suffering
  • Casinos
  • …and, of course, racism in sports.

Because this all may be new to you, allow me to help clear some things up:

  • Despite numerous attempts at mass genocide, we didn’t all die out a long time ago. So, please don’t say you thought we all had died. It’s just not nice.
  • Don’t ask me if I smoke/drink/eat peyote. I’ve honestly never seen it in person.
  • Yes, I know what Tribe I’m from-the Chickahominy Tribe of Virginia. And, yes, saying the word Tribe is okay.
  • No, I’ve never lived in a teepee.
  • Yes, I go to pow wows. They’re a lot of fun. You can go to one, too, but make sure you watch grand entry and eat a fry bread taco while you’re there. (You can thank me later.)
  • Once you go to a real pow wow, you will see why you shouldn’t call that lame work meeting a pow wow.
  • Please stop telling kids to sit “Indian style.” That’s not how we all sit and criss-cross-apple-sauce is so much more fun to say!
  • And, once you learn that someone is Native American, please refrain from telling them you think you might be part Cherokee. Just trust me on this one.

But, back to you, Dan. Here’s my final thought on the mascot issue: Much of our land may have been stolen from us, but our culture is not for sale.

Kind regards,

@AmyStretten (Chickahominy Tribe)

p.s.: If you’d like to discuss better names for your football team, feel free to tweet me @AmyStretten. Happy Native American Heritage Month!

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