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Redskins Name Will Change; Then It's Time to Get Our Communities Right

You know those other problems 'more important' than a sports team's name? Winning the Redskins fight will give us the momentum to fix those, too.
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The name is going to change. Promise.

A few weeks ago, I gave the prediction that the Redskins would change their name within three years. Administratively, it can’t really happen any sooner, but the name will be an economic necessity—if the team was halfway competent on the field, maybe they could withstand a few years longer. But the team sucks and they’re not getting any better. Therefore, the team simply cannot sustain a) not being competitive AND b) constantly having to spend valuable bandwidth, time and dollars answering non-football questions.

Simple mathematics. For those Native who love the Redskins (like my son), cool, go get your officially licensed Redskins hats and t-shirts now—they will be collectors' items soon.


If it wasn’t a foregone conclusion before, the letter from half of the U.S. Senate and the recent trademark decision were pretty much the nails in the coffin. Now it’s simply a matter of time before this downward pressure—coming in two different directions—forces Federal Express and Bank of America to sever its relationship with the Redskins and the team really starts to suffer. FYI: For those Natives who are in favor of the team changing its name, FedEx and Bank of America are two of the Redskins’ major sponsors. Both companies benefit from TONS of tribal business. If I were seeking a place where the Redskins were vulnerable, I would start there and focus on working with YOUR PARTICULAR Tribe to write a letter to Federal Express and Bank of America and letting them know that your TRIBE (and all associated businesses) will consider using UPS for ALL shipping services and other Banks until they pull sponsorship from the Redskins. It’s not simply about the money that these companies would miss from Tribes/Native organizations; it’s also about the bad publicity they will receive. This whole ordeal is ultimately about money for Dan Snyder so this is where the rubber meets the road.

Bethany Yellowtail (center) with models

Bethany Yellowtail (center) with models

If Natives could get even 200 tribes to work in unison here and commit to pulling all business with both Fed Ex and Bank of America, the negotiations would start immediately. It’s called “divestment.” We can do it, but it takes discipline and commitment. A divestment campaign would show one way or another if tribes are indeed committed to this topic. For those who do not believe that Tribes have the ability/capital to effect change with a divestment campaign, they should look at the successful campaign begun by Uncle Billy Frank Jr. and Pacific Northwest Tribes to strategically stop partnerships with renowned Indian fighter Slade Gorton. NCAI, Pres. Cladoosby—you guys remember that victory. It was powerful! The Oneida Nation is on to something and this could really work. I’m proud of the way NCAI has circled around to make this a grassroots issue.

That’s a topic for another day. Safe to say, however, that we do have the power.

Symbols count.

In that way, this Redskins victory—just like the trademark court victory—will be a very important victory for all Native people, even those who like the team name. Whether or not a Native person cares passionately about this topic or not this WILL undoubtedly be an important victory for Native people to show that with a concerted effort we CAN make a change. That’s big. Also, it shows that white supremacy against Native people will eventually change (whereas, for most other ethnic groups it simply won’t be tolerated at all). Still, for Native people, all victories are important—period.

Granted, this victory would have happened quicker if those organizing on this matter had gone to Indian Country and vetted the idea first and gotten grassroots support. Still, that’s also a discussion for another day.

Next time.


Still, Native people’s actions FOLLOWING the name change will be at least as important as it was leading up to the name change. At that point, our communities will have an incredible amount of responsibility and work. That is because EVERY single issue that exists now in Indian Country will still be exactly the same AFTER the name change. The epidemics of suicide, alcoholism, domestic violence, diabetes, life expectancy, etc. will not magically change because of this victory. That’s to say nothing about the newer generation of existential issues within our communities like disenrollment, racism, IRA government vs. traditional government, loss of language, or the environmental crises like oil pipelines, man camps, and water rights.

I used to be suspicious about the Redskins matter because I felt it took up valuable time and resources from basic needs/life discussions for our homelands. Moreover, I also resented that nobody talked to my communities before asserting that these symbols are offensive to all Native people—I know plenty of Natives who aren’t offended by the name. But we’re past that now. We have to be. Our people have spoken; now, it’s 100% about the movement of our people—it’s bigger than individuals. This is about us speaking for us—there are too many non-Natives trying to tell us what we should or should not be offended by. We MUST define ourselves. Symbols count and the ability define oneself transcends mere Native mascots and whether or not individual Natives subjectively are offended by the names. It’s much bigger than that. You like the name? Cool. But understand that a non-Native shouldn’t be able to say for you what offends you or doesn’t. People rally behind symbols. This inevitable name change victory has the ability to rally and unite Native people—urban and reservation—like very few other things in recent memory.

It is becoming a movement of the people. That’s beautiful. We need to make a concerted effort to bring that movement to the grassroots and not leave anybody out of this conversation.

Thus I become hopeful that the memory of this inevitable Redskins victory will help create some momentum to address those internal matters—suicide, disenrollments, alcoholism, etc. Maybe it will encourage some of those who fought so strongly for this victory to bring their talents home and turn their attention toward our homelands and try to direct resources to us here.

By successfully winning the battle to define ourselves, we removed a distraction. An annoyance. It was important—a distraction that needed to be removed. Great work.

No, the Redskins name change won’t change any of those numbers or pressing issues—the alcoholism, the fatherlessness or suicide. Man camps and stopping the freakin’ Keystone XL pipeline, violence against Native women or ANY of the many pipelines tearing up our homelands. The identity issues (blood quantum, disenrollment, etc) and the language loss. Those are all much deeper than a simple fix. HOPEFULLY, however, getting rid of this damn name will remove a distraction so that we can focus on the real work of Indian Country—getting our communities healthy again. Internally. Spiritually. For those of you who don’t work/live/come within our communities, we can use your help. Here’s hoping that what you say is true—that you CAN focus on more than one thing at one time.

The name IS going to change. Guaranteed. Great job, all those who organized powerfully to make it so—Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda Blackhorse, and many others; of course Native women led this movement. That’s what Native women do—lead. These powerful women join the pantheon of so many other women Native leaders who guide our communities, often thankless but always working. (Perhaps the name shouldbe the Washington Warriors—in commemoration of the women warriors within our communities who make stuff happen). Now comes the hard work—using the momentum from this victory to help repair our communities that are working hard to get back to a place of health, wellness, and re-Indigenizing.

This is a serious invitation. Let’s work together—urban and reservation based—and get this name changed so we can hurry up and focus on getting our communities right. The Redskins are the window dressing, the superficial wound that is easy to see; yeah, absolutely, we gotta fix that. But that’s not the end of the story. Simultaneously, we still gotta tend to the gaping internal wounds within our communities because, while we have to address these national issues, the benefit has to trickle back to our communities, our people, our sacred homelands.

Bethany Yellowtail (center) with models

Gyasi Ross
Blackfeet Nation/Suquamish Territories
Twitter: @BigIndianGyasi