As a native woman attending a predominantly white university, there is a lot of pressure on me from my family and peers. The pressure to be a proud indigenous woman of this land gets heavier when men like Daniel Snyder and the sports industry continue to promote spirit-damaging caricatures like the Washington Redskins.
Natives are faced with certain kinds of challenges in a white society. The first challenge being that our issues are invisible, and the second that we are seen in a way that depicts us as lesser, or -- worse -- like we just aren’t real people. For years, high school, college, and professional sports teams have depicted Native people in disparaging ways. A major issue has been with the Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder.
This week, Snyder released a letter announcing that he was starting a foundation in support of the Native American community called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. The letter and foundation announcement was clearly meant to draw attention away from the offensive team name and onto, in no uncertain condescending terms, Native people’s challenges in America.
Although Snyder and his team addressed this letter to the “Washington Redskins Nation,” they are actually talking directly to the many indigenous activists who are still trying to get the team name changed. In the letter, Snyder provided bulleted examples of his new-found knowledge of the “genuine issues” and challenges faced by Native people in this country for centuries (because he spent four months visiting several different reservations), effectively dismissing the subject of his team’s offensive name almost entirely.
Instead, Snyder writes of the poverty, lack of electricity, healthcare and safe water accessibility, as well as other plights suffered on reservations. He fails to mention that among the major challenges faced by Natives are racial harassment and lack of cultural support. Snyder said he wants to focus on the needs of Indian country, but Indian country doesn’t need Snyder and his team to regurgitate statistics to them, particularly since they are living these statistics.
Although Snyder prides himself for “listening and learning from all voices with a perspective about our Washington Redskins name,” he readily points to surveys that have been conducted only to find out the direst needs of reservations today. But by not including or encouraging surveys on his team’s racist mascot, he’s ignoring the opinions on the subject that perhaps matter the most.
Snyder believes that the team is celebrating the “values and heritage of Native Americans” regardless of the team's true history and the true history of the team’s name. But the Washington team was established by a known racist and segregationist, George Preston Marshall, and was one of the last teams to integrate people of color into the NFL.
The team has a full-blown history of racism that is further perpetuated by Snyder’s refusal to change the name. Snyder’s letter, his creation of a foundation to save-face, continue a franchise, and his promotion of the “history” of an 81-year-old football team with a racist name, is truly insulting to the integrity and intelligence of Native people. The team’s “heritage” is being used to outweigh the heritage of an established people of more than a thousand years.
Natives and activists view this foundation as a form of bribery and continue to fight against Snyder’s letter and shaming. The recent hashtag #Not4Sale is used in reference to this attempt at quieting those who oppose the team name. Accompanying pictures feature Native people with money taped over their mouths. Others have brought up the issue of the foundations name itself. Some have used the foundation’s acronym, O.A.F., to represent Dan Snyder. Some have questioned why Snyder and his team didn’t use “redskins” in favor of “Original Americans” if it isn’t an offensive term.
Regardless, Snyder and his team, with claims to be so focused on “honoring” and “valuing” Native Americans, should set a standard for the rest of the country by changing a name that belittles Native people and their identity.