Before getting into today’s topic, I would like to add one more note from the last blog. Additional information and teaching aids are available from the Georgia Trail of Tears Association. They can be reached through the link page on this blog.
Last Tuesday, Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL franchise, was interviewed by ESPN regarding the team name. Again, he insisted that the name referred only to football players and was in no way a racist slur on anyone. In fact, he said, the name is intended to honor Native Americans for their strength and bravery, and if protesters understood the history of the name, “as most people do,” they would have no problems.
Mr. Snyder’s reference to history was the team’s history, not American history. The “as most people do,” remark was in regard to a recent poll showing that 71% of Americans see nothing wrong with the name. Both remarks require closer scrutiny.
According to franchise lore, the name stems from original ownership naming the team in honor of its first coach, William “Lone Star” Dietz. Mr. Dietz claimed to be Oglala Sioux and the nephew of James One Star, a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 2002, historian Linda Waggoner investigated the claim and discovered that William Henry Dietz was born to German-American parents in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. It seems Mr. Dietz adopted his Native American persona to avoid serving in World War I. In 1919, in Seattle, he was convicted of falsifying his heritage and served jail time. The franchises’ “Indian” was no Indian at all.
Snyder was correct when he said most people have no issue with the name. Results of a recent poll, shows that 71% of Americans see nothing wrong with the name. What the poll also showed was that the acceptance rate dropped from 89% and that now, 29% of Americans do see the name as a slur, which is a huge increase from just two years earlier. The other fact about the poll is that it reflects the opinion of Americans, not Native-Americans. Yet the team insists that it has the support of many American Indians who see the name as a reflection of strength and bravery of indigenous people.
What do American Indians really think? In point of fact, a wide variety of Native American groups and tribes have come out against the name, including the National Congress of American Indians, the United South and Eastern Tribes, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma, the Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, and many more.
A group of Native-Americans led by Suzan Harjo, Cheyenne and Muskogee, and Amanda Blackhorse, Navajo, won a federal court case against the team that resulted in the U.S. Patent Office rescinding the teams trademark protection. Even though the team is appealing the decision, it has served as a wake-up call to other franchises, like the Cleveland Indians, to take a close look at what they proclaim to be an honorarium to Native people. In my three decades of American Indian study, I have never found one situation where the Washington team’s nick-name was used to respect Indian people or their culture. Quite the opposite is true. It is a vitriolic, racist term filled with hate and anger meant to demean and dehumanize. Shouldn’t it stop?