By CHRISTINE FRANK
In the largest demonstration yet, 5000 Indigenous People and their supporters marched and rallied to demand that Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL franchise, change the racist name of his team, the “Redskins.” On Nov. 2, the team was in Minneapolis to play the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus. That morning, they were met by three separate feeder marches—two from campus and the other from the community—which converged in an enormous rally held on the adjacent Minnesota Tribal Nations Plaza, which honors the state’s 11 federally recognized Native American tribes.
The action was sponsored by Not Your Mascot and the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and the Media, with support from over two dozen other groups. Several busloads of activists came from as many as 10 states, with the Upper Midwest tribal communities being well represented. They chanted, “We Are Not Your Mascots!” and “Change the Name!”
Rally speakers included Clyde Bellecourt, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, and Winona La Duke of Honor the Earth, along with many tribal leaders, including Ray Halbritter of the Oneida Nation in upstate New York. Also, present were Native athletes Joey Browner, formerly of the Vikings, and Billy Mills, an Olympic Gold Medalist and one-time hockey player.
Expressing solidarity from the Black community were activist/comedian Dick Gregory and Spike Moss of the Minneapolis NAACP, who spoke of how runaway slaves frequently sought refuge among the Southern tribes, where they were welcomed, intermarried with them, and bore Native American children.
There were many politicians on the platform, including Rep. Betty McCollum (Democrat, 4th CD), who co-chairs the Native American Congressional Caucus, and Mayor Betsy Hodges. The rally was chaired by Susan Allen, the first Native American woman in the Minnesota legislature. All were unanimous in declaring the team name an offensive racial epithet long overdue for a change. In addition to the speeches, there were ceremonies, drum circles, and dances.
Many speakers pointed to the genocidal history of the word. For instance, during Minnesota’s campaign of extermination waged against the Dakota people in 1862, a bill was posted publicly that read: “The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every Redskin sent to purgatory.” Not only were scalps taken from Native women, children, warriors, and elders but the dead were mutilated in other ghastly ways when soldiers and bounty hunters offered proof of their systematic butchery.
The term is linked to a 500-year legacy of genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide waged against Native North America. This legacy continues today with not only racist team mascots and other misappropriations of Indigenous culture, but the destruction of tribal lands and the health of their people by polluting corporate extraction industries, and the continual violation of treaty rights that are part of a long trail of broken promises.
While 5000 protesters expressed their disapproval of Dan Snyder’s unwillingness to change the name of his NFL team, the arrogant owner sat in his box watching the game with private security guards at the door. He had previously told the press that he would never change the name despite the growing number of people, including President Obama, opposed to the racial slur.
In 2006, Navajo social worker Amanda Blackhorse had filed a petition against the name with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which responded this June, ruling that six Redskins trademark registrations should be canceled. Losing the trademark wouldn’t get rid of the name, but it would cost the team exclusive merchandising and licensing rights and big revenue losses. Since money is the only thing that Dan Snyder apparently understands, he turned around and filed suit against Blackhorse and her four fellow plaintiffs after the ruling.
At the rally, activists pledged to follow the Washington team to its remaining home and away games this season to demand that it be renamed to something that does not offend 365 million Indigenous People around the globe.
Photo: Twin Cities Daily Planet