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Navajo Council Member Introduces Anti-Redskins Bill

A Navajo Nation council member has proposed legislation opposing the Redskins football team name.

A Navajo Nation council member has proposed legislation opposing the Redskins football team name and authorizing the Nation’s president and other officials to speak out against it and other racist sports names on behalf of the Navajo people.

Simultaneously, the Navajo Human Rights Commission has passed a supporting resolution recommending that the Navajo Nation Council oppose the use of "disparaging" references to Native people in professional sports franchises and urging the Navajo government to use the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) when addressing the rights of Navajo people.

The U.N. Human Rights Council published the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in 2011, setting global standards for states to implement policies, laws and practices to prevent, investigate, punish and redress human rights abuses in business enterprises. The U.N. General Assembly adopted the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007. Set in a human rights framework, the Declaration details Indigenous Peoples’ individual and collective rights and their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education, land and to “free, prior and informed consent” to any state decisions that affect them or their future generations.

Councilman Joshua Lavar Butler’s draft bill, called “Opposing the Use of Disparaging References to Native People in Professional Sports Franchises,” was introduced into the legislature on March 11.

“I dropped the entire proposed legislation packet in the ‘hopper’ today (March 11) and it should be ready for Council action as early as next week. It will go through a 5-day comment period,” Butler told Indian Country Today Media Network.

The proposed bill says that the term “redskins” comes from a time “when bounties were offered for the murder of Native Americans and constitutes a disparaging epithet.” It says that the continued use of disparaging names and images “is damaging to Natives Americans and perpetuates racism, stereotyping, ignorance and misrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples.”

With Native Americans struggling against “higher-than-average” rates of suicide, violence against women, racial and hate crimes, poverty, unemployment and loss of identity and culture, the use of disparaging terms has "a negative psychological effect on Native Americans, such as promoting low self-esteem and self-image in Native youth who are already disadvantaged by social ills beyond their control," the draft legislation states.

The bill also notes that many indigenous nations and organizations have voiced opposition to the offensive Redskins name and points to a bill introduced last year by Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, called the Non-Disparagement of Native American Persons or Peoples in Trademark Registration Act of 2013. That proposal would strip the Washington football team of its trademarked name and put a stop to its exclusive profiteering from using the racist slur in its logo on sweatshirts, tee shirts, caps, coffee mugs and dozens of other products flooding the market. The bill would also prohibit any future trademarks that use the offensive term.

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Butler has been a vocal opponent of the Redskins name and spoke out against it last fall soon after the Oneida Indian Nation, owners of Oneida Nation Enterprises, parent company of ICTMN, launched a public relations campaign called “Change the Mascot.”

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His proposed bill comes on the heels of a vote February 28 by seven members of the Navajo Code Talker Association (NCTA) to endorse the use of the hateful Redskins name, an action that harms the Nation, Butler said. The 7-0 vote did not include the consent of all 40 voting members. “The NCTA is putting us in an awkward position because some tribes, especially on the east coast, are fighting this aggressively. At the end of the day, we have to work with those tribes as well and the NCTA is sending the wrong message by endorsing the utilization of that term,” Butler said.

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The bill was written in part to counter the effect of the NCTA endorsement. The bill notes that the NCTA has met with executives of the Washington Redskins team on several occasions. “This interaction has led people to believe the Navajo Nation supports the use of the name, both undermining the Navajo Nation’s advocacy efforts at all levels of government and damaging its relationships with other Native nations,” the bill says.

The draft legislation supports the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission’s advocacy on implementing the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and it authorizes the Navajo Nation president, the speaker of the council, their designees and the Navajo Nation’s Washington, D.C. office “to oppose the use of the term ‘redskin’ and ‘redskins’ and other offensive names used in reference to Native Americans and to support Faleomavaega’s bill in the U.S. Congress.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly could not be reached for comment.