In a move spurred by high school students in their home state, the Oneida Indians started the “Change the Mascot” campaign a few months ago. Since then, the Oneida Nation has become the leading force behind changing the mascot of the Washington Redskins to something that is not racist nor insulting.
In a conference which began Monday in Washington, D.C., Ray Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Nation, has been attempting to persuade Americans in general to support the Oneida Nation’s attempt to change the nickname: “The Oneida Nation has a vested interest in the league being a unifying force in communities throughout America. This name is not a unifying force. It is a divisive epithet.”
The Washington Redskins have held the mascot name for 80 years, and many fans are reluctant to changing the name. Team representatives have cited several polls which “prove” that Americans and American Indians do not believe the nickname to be offensive.
Redskins president, Daniel Snyder, has stated “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
A team representative for the Redskins issued a statement defending Washington’s use of the moniker: “We at the Redskins respect everyone. The name ‘Washington Redskins’ is 80 years old—it’s our history and legacy and tradition. We Redskins fans sing ‘hail to the Redskins’ every Sunday as a word of honor not disparagement.”
This line of argumentation would seemingly also make it okay to continue to use other historical, yet derogatory, nicknames as well, right? As long as it has some historical value, it can’t negatively impact a community, correct?
Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist working with the Oneida Nation, has stated that “Promoting such an epithet with millions of marketing dollars creates very real mental health consequences—and not just for the indigenous populations the word denigrates. Not only does the use of this slur risk causing direct damage to the mental and physical health of our country’s Native American population, it also puts us all at risk for both participating in and being harmed by ongoing prejudice.”
Friedman continues his assessment of the situation by saying:
“It is unlikely that the Washington Redskins organization is intentionally being prejudiced towards Native Americans since the team name has a long history and was created by prior owners. However, continued refusal not only to refrain from changing the team name, but to even acknowledge the potential harmful effects of the team name runs the risk of suggesting that the organization is complicit in prejudice and discrimination against Native Americans and insensitive to the effects of witnessing such discrimination on our population.”
Due to increased pressure from the Oneida Nation, and perhaps even statements from President Obama stating that he would consider changing the name if he was the team’s owner, NFL vice president of labor and government affairs, Adolpho Birch, wrote a letter to the Oneida Nation asking for an earlier meeting than the previously scheduled date of November 22.
Classic American western films, and even American textbooks, have inoculated Americans against the offensive nature of the term “redskin”. One has to be cognizant of the fact that “redskin” is just as bad as an epithet as any other racial slur (Yes, even that one.) It is about time that this issue be given the proper recognition it deserves. Considering Native Americans have one of the highest rates of suicides for any group within the United States, and the fact that those rates have risen 65% over the past 10 years, even now may be too late.
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