I want to begin by noting that I like football, but what I have to say regarding the use of the name “Redskins” in professional football has nothing to do with football.
As an American Indian woman, as a tribal leader, and perhaps most importantly, as a mother and grandmother, I find the term and the team name “Redskins” deeply offensive in any context. I realize that some people will continue to argue that the term “Redskins” is used to honor Native Americans, however, in my experience the term has never been used in a respectful way that honors our people, but rather used in a derogatory manner to separate us out as savages or to signify in some way that we are less than human beings and thus justify the genocide that remains a part of our shared history.
I say “our” shared history because most of us are proud Americans. I know I am. As Americans, we must not only celebrate our proud heritage, but also come to terms with the historic violence and racism that this country was founded upon and, to some degree, remains with us today. We must begin to heal, not by sweeping the past under the proverbial rug and denying involvement, denying intent and denying relevance. To heal, we must instead be allowed to speak our truths and begin to reconcile past hurts and injustices.
So let’s start healing today by admitting this truth; the use of racist and derogatory “Indian” sports mascots, logo, or symbols, is harmful and perpetuates negative stereotypes of America’s first peoples, my people. Does every American Indian believe this to be true? Most likely not. But enough of us feel that these logos and caricatures contribute to a disregard for the personhood of Native peoples, and that it should no longer be acceptable to stereotype and diminish our culture in this way.
I believe with all my heart that my daughters and grandchildren deserve a legacy built upon our values, traditions, and perseverance as a people. I also believe all children deserve something better than a legacy constructed on hate and misunderstanding. Therefore, I unequivocally support the University of Minnesota’s efforts to avoid using the team name “Redskins” on all promotional and game date materials.
The University of Minnesota is a public, land grant institution with several policies designed to foster respect for diversity, and hosting the Washington football team franchise at the TCF Bank Stadium, which houses the Tribal Nations Plaza, disrespects and conflicts with these policies and goes against everything the Plaza stands for.
For those of you who may not know, the Plaza honors the 11 federally recognized Tribes in Minnesota and was made possible by a donation of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. The Plaza was built to help others better appreciate and understand the unique historic and ongoing contributions made to the state of Minnesota by our Tribal Nations.
As an educator I also encourage everyone to take advantage of the many events and resources that are taking place at the University of Minnesota this week (diversity.umn.edu/americanindianprogramming) and join us for the protest at the Washington vs Viking game on November 2.
Erma J. Vizenor
White Earth Nation