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Wisconsin protester against Indian mascots.
Wisconsin protester
For the second time in a dozen years, the D.C. Council called upon the owner of the Washington Redskins Tuesday to change the offensive name of his NFL football team. The vote was 10-0 with two council-members absent and one abstaining. The council called for the same thing in 2001. It has no power over the team.

Councilman David Grosso said that changing the "racist and derogatory [name] resonates with the people.” The Oneida Nation, which, along with the National Congress of American Indians, has long sought to get the name changed, stated in response to the vote:

"[T]he D.C. City Council has placed itself firmly on the side of those who believe there should be no place for institutionalized racism within the National Football League," according to the statement. "This City Council resolution is yet another call for Washington's team owner to do the right thing by halting the callous use of the R-word and moving the team in a positive direction away from its past legacy of racial bigotry.

Owner Dan Snyder has said he will "never" change the name. Supporters of keeping the name have trotted out a poll claiming a huge percentage of American Indians don't oppose the use of "Redskins," even though that poll was by telephone and made no effort to confirm whether respondents actually were Indians. For an antidote to that, try Joe Flood's How The “Redskins” Debate Goes Over On An Actual Indian Reservation.

In addition to arguing that "Redskins" isn't really a slur, quite a number of well-intentioned non-Indians have argued that there are more important matters for Indians than dumping the name. Without a doubt, whether we live on reservations or in urban areas, American Indians face many serious problems. Having to put up with "Redskins" is not as bad as the school drop-out rate, unemployment, poverty and health deficits that plague many tribes. But that doesn't mean "Redskins" should be ignored anymore than slurs against other people of color should be ignored.

As Seminole-Sioux activist Michael Haney explained to the Chicago Tribune 20 years ago: "As long as white America feels that Indians are not quite human, that we can be construed as mascots or caricatures or cartoon figures, then they will never deal with the issues of education and economic development for our people."

Below the fold is more commentary on the "Redskins" and renaming the team "Red Clouds."

This summer, at the second-quarter meeting of the Intertribal Council of Five Civilized Tribes, delegates passed with a single dissenting vote a resolution condemning the use of the "Redskins" name for the team and other purposes:

Resolution 13-27 opposing the use of the term “Redskins” as the name of Washington D.C.’s NFL franchise and supporting Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell, Congressional Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma and Betty McCollum of Minnesota in their commitment to rebrand said franchise.

The resolution stated that, “the use of the term “Redskins” as the name of a franchise is derogatory and racist…”

Cole and McCollum were involved in the introduction of a congressional bill March 20, “to amend the Trademark Act of 1946 regarding the disparagement of Native American persons or peoples through marks that use the term `redskin' and for other purposes.”

Last Friday, Bob Drury and Thomas Clavin wrote in the Washington Post that the "Redskins" name should be replaced by the "Washington Red Clouds" in honor of the Oglala Lakota leader Red Cloud. The two have written a book, The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend.

I am Seminole, not Lakota. And I speak only for myself. But this seems like a supremely bad idea to me.

Without a doubt, Red Cloud, known as Maȟpíya Lúta in his own tongue, was a brilliant tactician of the 19th Century Indian wars. He was a popular figure among non-Indians during his 1875 visit to Washington, after which he returned home with no desire to continue fighting the invaders whose numbers he saw to be overwhelming.

But saying, as Drury and Clavin do, that Red Cloud "controlled a multi-tribal empire whose territory spanned one-fifth of the contiguous United States" shows a profound misunderstanding of Lakota (Sioux) culture, which, then and now, is highly decentralized. That misunderstanding is one of many unlikely to be improved by attaching Red Cloud's name to the team. Instead, expect the usual "redface" and other disrespectful behavior.

How about renaming the team the "Pigskins" (that many of the team's fans have expressed support for) or the "Dragons" or the "Klingon Warriors"?

How about honoring Red Cloud by spending some of the team's profits to bring justice to the Lakota and help end the grinding poverty of Red Cloud's burial place—the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, where unemployment is estimated at 80 percent?

How about giving back the still-public parts of the Black Hills?

How about coughing up the $9 million Indians had to raise last year to buy back Pe' Sla, a sacred section of the Black Hills stolen from them in 1876 despite the signing of two supposedly permanent treaties?

As Red Cloud said:

"They made us many promises, more than I can remember. But they kept but one—They promised to take our land...and they took it."

The D.C. Council deserves thanks for again urging the name-change. But following the advice of Drury and Clavin to turn one of the Lakotas' most important freedom fighters into a pet for football spectators will not atone for the use of the racist name the team has been called for 80 years. Plenty of other choices exist.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Nov 05, 2013 at 03:59 PM PST.

Also republished by Kitchen Table Kibitzing and Native American Netroots.

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