Why Washington? 12 stories that explain

American Indians and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome to protest the Washington Redskins' name, prior to an NFL football game between the team and the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Mark Trahant

Indian Country Today background on the use of Native American symbols and mascots

Mark Trahant

Indian Country Today

Some four years ago the Washington Post published a “poll” of Native Americans that said nine-in-ten did not object to the name of that city’s NFL team. That document was used by the team as its public excuse to dismiss repeated and consistent calls from tribal leaders, civil rights organizations, and a wide cross-section of Native Americans to change the name.

In 2019 the Post did it again. Another flawed study that reached with the same results.

“The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence Native people,” Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Tulalip, said in February. “But our study, which captures a broad diversity of Native peoples and experiences, shows high rates of opposition. As researchers and consumers of information, we need to be very careful about whose voices we claim to be representing.”

This is the perfect opportunity for a real, “thorough review” of the team’s name. (Then: How do you review what is already a “dictionary-defined racial slur?”)

The world has changed since George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and the crashing of racist symbols of all kinds across the country. This time, the NFL and the Washington team may reach a new conclusion. Indeed, several news outlets are reporting that the name change is a done deal.

“The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence Native people,” Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Tulalip, said. “But our study, which captures a broad diversity of Native peoples and experiences, shows high rates of opposition. As researchers and consumers of information, we need to be very careful about whose voices we claim to be representing.”

Twelve stories from Indian Country Today archives that provide background information that shows that mascots are harmful and the substantial opposition from Native Americans to the use of this (and all) mascots.

(Related story: The end of a mascot: Washington NFL team to review its dictionary-defined slur )

ONE.

Study finds only harmful effects from Native-themed mascots

Low self-esteem, low community worth, increased negative feelings of stress and depression.

These are some of the negative psychological effects Native American mascots wreak on the well-being of Native Americans, especially youth, according to a new study.

TWO.

Washington NFL team name is the ‘equivalent of the Confederate flag’

Statues and logos with racist depictions are being dropped like bad habits as momentum continues to grow across the country for racial justice and equality.

On Friday, nearly 90 investors representing more than $620 billion in assets sent letters to three NFL sponsors: Nike, FedEx and Pepsi. The investors are calling for the termination of business and public relationships to the Washington NFL franchise until they change their controversial and racist team name.

Nike and Pepsi are two of the top four companies with sponsorship deals with the NFL, according to an analysis by NS Business. Washington plays at FedExField, which the company purchased naming rights in 1998 for $205 million. The deal runs through 2025.

The letter states the death of George Floyd has sparked national conversation on race, and businesses are working to change problematic logos and images that have been mainstays for years.

THREE.

Clear data: Native people are 'deeply insulted' by NFL team name

The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence Native people.

A new academic study debunks previous surveys saying Native people support offensive mascot imagery, including the NFL’s Washington franchise.

Fifty-seven percent who identify as Native American surveyed took offense at the Washington team and 67 percent of those who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices said they were “deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture,” according to a University of California, Berkeley news release. Young people, participants “engaged in their Native or tribal cultures” and federally-recognized tribal citizens tended to agree more that the team is offensive.

FOUR.

Tribal leaders: It’s time to change the name of the Washington NFL team

As leaders of tribal nations, we cannot understand why the Washington team is so steadfastly committed to this slur – “r**skins.” Many people mistakenly believe that this name simply refers to the color of our skin. But the term more cruelly refers to the bloody scalp of a murdered Native American, which were collected and traded for money like fur pelts, the value determined by whether the scalp belonged to a Native man, woman or child. It is a hurtful reminder of the genocide of our people.

FIVE.

‘We stand united … end the use of offensive and racist Native mascots’

Study surveyed more than 1,000 Native people and some 70 percent of Native people said they were ‘deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture’

SIX.

Super Bowl’s chops, chants and cringes

The always present mascot controversy shows “our work is not done.”

The chop. The chant. The controversy.

Stereotypical Native imagery continues to affect many in Indian Country and now it’s on the world stage as the NFL’s prized Super Bowl features a team from Kansas City known for its inconsiderate chant and “Arrowhead Chop.” Now, the chop and chant is making its way from the Midwest and to the big game on Feb. 2 in Miami.

But even beyond the Super Bowl, the Native imagery controversy remains close to home, real close for some.

SEVEN.

Ohio school district retires racist mascot

In this mostly white community in a state with no federally recognized tribes and few Native Americans, the arguments have mostly been devoid of input from Native peoples.

Previous efforts to change the mascot and logo in 1999, 2003 and 2018 quickly devolved into arguments in which Keepers fervently defended themselves against what they perceived as unfair charges of racism.

Rowdy groups of Keepers dressed in orange Anderson High School T-shirts featuring the mascot name and head of a Plains-style Indian shouted down school board members during public meetings.

“Once a (R-word), always a (R-word); save our skins,” they shouted.

EIGHT.

Change the ‘damn name!’ Rebrand Washington football

Petition calls for the Washington football team to change its name and logo.

“Change the name! Change the logo! Rebrand Washington football!”

On a brisk Saturday morning just outside Washington, D.C. at the team headquarters of the Washington football team, some 20 people gathered to deliver 1,884 signed petitions demanding the NFL team to change the name.

NINE.

How the Kansas City Chiefs got their name and the Boy Scout Tribe of Mic-O-Say

The creation of the Mic-O-Say by Harold Roe Bartle, a non-Native man with a 25-cigar-a-day habit and a booming voice, was the man behind the catalyst leading to the eventual creation of the name for the Kansas City football team, the Chiefs.

TEN.

Heil … photo recalls racism of NFL Team’s first owner

In 1961, a group of men marched with swastikas on their arms in protest of the integration of black players onto Washington’s NFL team

A photograph that was reincarnated by Mother Jones magazine, snapped by Sports Illustratedphotographer Neil Leifer back in 1961, shows that Washington’s NFL team was a favorite among American Nazis.

Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse joined forces in the fight against the Washington NFL team franchise
Suzan Shown Harjo and Amanda Blackhorse joined forces in the fight against the Washington NFL team franchise (Indian Country Today photo by Vincent Schilling)

ELEVEN.

Suzan Shown Harjo Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom in White House Ceremony

Suzan Shown Harjo has become known of late for her efforts to get the name of the Washington DC football team changed. But that, contrary to what some pundits have surmised, is not why she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 24. It was what came before, from a lifetime of activism, fighting for tribal sovereignty and preservation, while inspiring American Indian youth.

TWELVE.

Indian Country Today Style Book

Washington R--------s. Indian Country Today does not repeat dictionary defined slurs. The professional football team is called ‘the Washington NFL franchise’ in our digital space.

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