Dalton Walker

Indian Country Today

A timely Facebook discussion led by three Native non-profit organizations that touched on mascot imagery to rights for Indigenous people reached tens of thousands of people on Wednesday.

IllumiNative, NDN Collective and the Native Organizers Alliance teamed up to host a nearly 2-hour virtual Native town hall that included three panels and many well-known advocates as well as leaders of the Black community. The town hall reached an estimated 161,943 people, according to IllumiNative.

“We’re grateful to the strong movement building of #BlackLivesMatter and those who fought decades to #ChangetheMascot,” read a IllumiNative Facebook post.

The first panel was on mascots and featured four women who have been instrumental in the movement to change the Washington NFL football team’s nickname. On July 3, the team said it was conducting a “thorough review of the team’s name” and multiple NFL-related reports say change is inevitable. It’s unclear when or if team owner Daniel Snyder will make an announcement about the change.

The panel included Suzan Harjo, Hodulgee Muscogee and Cheyenne, Amanda Blackhorse, Dine, Carla Fredricks, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, and Stephanie Fryberg,Tulalip. IllumiNative CEO Crystal Echo Hawk, Pawnee, moderated the discussion. Professional golfer Notah Begay III, Pueblo of San Felipe and Isleta and Dine, shared a brief comment towards the end.

Here are some highlights from the mascot discussion:

“We are standing at the edge of what Daniel Snyder would hope is his process and thorough review that excludes us,” Harjo said. “We are not asking to be part of it. We are asking everyone else in society to tell him what is going on in the world, the country and this area is about change.”

Harjo recently spoke with Indian Country Today about the team’s announcement and cautioned that she was not “ready to dance in the end zone yet.”

Blackhorse said she wants a complete rebrand of the team.

“We want 100 percent rebrand, no Native imagery, no Native themes, we need to take it all out,” she said.

Both Harjo and Blackhorse have a connected legal history against the football team.

Fryberg, a psychology professor and co-author of a recent study that debunked previous surveys saying Native people support offensive imagery, said Native mascot imagery is harmful to Native youth.

“I can not reiterate enough that the use of Native peoples as mascots has no positive outcomes or benefits for Native people or other people of color,” she said.

Fredericks, director of First Peoples Worldwide, explained how pressure played a role on investors and business partners who made recent racial justice statements yet continued a relationship with the controversial NFL franchise.

“The moral case for this is sound and should be driving the needle on it,” Fredericks said. “That's what we should be looking at as a society but that's just not where things are and unfortunately money talks and so that why this unfolded this way,”

(Related story: Why Washington? 12 stories that explain)

The second panel focused on the fight for Indigenous Rights against white supremacy. Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton Sioux, Brave Heart Society founder, Rosebud CHairman Rodney Bordeaux and NDN Collective founder Nick Tilsen, Oglala Lakota. Author and political analyst Tiffany Cross moderated the panel.

The conversation focused heavily on dozens of treaty defenders standing up to President Donald Trump and his visit to Mount Rushmore on July 3. Tilsen was arrested at the Black Hills protest and spent the holiday weekend in jail.

Spotted Eagle said U.S. citizens have a role in government’s treaties with Native nations.

U.S. citizens “have a part to play with the treaties,” she said. “You have to demand that the U.S. government live up to the treaties. These are not dormant documents. As I speak to you, you are a treaty enforcer.”

The Black Hills are unceded territory and are part of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 and acknowledged by a 1980 Supreme Court ruling in the United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians.

“(Our sacred lands) is what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth living for, what’s worth dying for,” Bordeaux said.

Tilsen, who was charged with two felonies and faces years in jail if convicted, said he grew up learning about the treaties and a responsibility to defend them.

“What mainstream society has to learn is we are fulfilling our roles,” Tilsen said.

“I wanted to connect the issues that have been generational for the fight of the Black Hills to this broader conversation that is happening in this country and this society today,” he added.

The third panel included NAACP President Derrick Johnson, author Ljeoma Oluo, Harness Executive Director Marya Bangee and Native Organizers Alliance Director Judith LeBlanc, Caddo Tribe of Oklahoma. The panel’s focus was building on a multiracial movement for justice and equity.

Here are a some highlights from the panel:

“Realize for every advancement we make there will be a reaction, so we need to be prepared for the reaction and push back against it,” Johnson said.

“The truth of it is for hundreds of years one of the worst nightmares of White supremacy has been solidary amongst non-White people,” Oluo said.

Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter - @daltonwalker

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