Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB
Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

The Battle of Washington

Daniel Snyder says it honors the heritage of Native Americans; critics consider it nothing less than a racist slur. We set out to gauge the real sentiment regarding the name ‘Redskins’ among Native American leaders and in grass-roots tribal communities around the country. The short answer: It’s complicated

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

With special reporting by Emily Kaplan

SAN CARLOS, Ariz. — The dusty roads behind the San Carlos Apache tribal headquarters lead to a place where the debate surrounding the NFL team in the nation’s capital does not feel 2,000 miles away. This reservation, a 1.8 million-acre trust of land two hours east of Phoenix, has an air of isolation. Cell phone service is spotty, and many businesses don’t have the technology to swipe credit cards. The dwellings of the 10,000 plus residents are scattered across the semi-arid terrain.

But the issue of the Washington NFL team’s name—the Redskins—drives the work of one artist on a daily basis. Propped up outside the white trailer that serves as his studio are paintings of Apache men and women on mixed media such as skateboards and household doors. Douglas Miles’ work portrays his subjects in traditional dress of cloth headbands and high-topped moccasins; wielding revolvers in a modern twist on their warrior ancestors; celebrating the tribe’s matrilineal heritage.

About a year and a half ago, Miles, who has lived on the reservation for nearly three decades, started an art campaign called “What Tribe,” with the intent of dismantling racial stereotypes such as the ones he sees in that team name and logo. Instead of a protest or a picket sign, he decided to weigh in by presenting his culture in a way many Native Americans feel is not recognized by the larger American populace. “We’re either seen as this extreme noble savage,” Miles says, “or this extreme poverty case that needs help.”

Indeed, these are the two visages often evoked and juxtaposed in discussions about the Washington team name. The push for a change in the name is pitted against Native Americans’ less-abstract needs—job creation, health care, land rights. But in many Native American communities, and to many Native American leaders, the mascot issue is about more than a football team.

Artist Douglas Miles on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. (Jenny Vrentas)
Artist Douglas Miles on the San Carlos Apache reservation in Arizona. (Jenny Vrentas)

That’s what we saw and heard during the past month, when The MMQB visited three Native American communities—the San Carlos Apache Reservation, Onondaga Nation in upstate New York and the Seminole Tribe’s Big Cypress Indian Reservation in South Florida—and spoke to dozens of other Native Americans living across the U.S. We spoke to leaders and to everyday people in the community like Miles, whom we met at the local café in San Carlos where his daughter works.

The recent groundswell around the team name produced some movement earlier this month, when the franchise announced the launch of the Original Americans Foundation, which pledges to work with tribal communities to provide resources and opportunities. Team owner Daniel Snyder and his staff visited 26 Native American communities to gather information and assess needs, and their initiative has already had a positive and tangible impact—one project has been to distribute more than 3,000 coats to tribes in the Great Plains this winter.

But the issue of the name remains. There is a loud call from many Native Americans, one that did not ask for money or assistance from the team. It asked for a name change. In a four-page letter outlining the new foundation’s goals, Snyder did not directly address this call, but wrote, “It’s plain to see [Native Americans] need action, not words.”

“I would say we do need action,” says Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). “And one of those actions is treating Indian country respectfully. One of those actions, Dan Snyder, is changing the name. Respect Indian country, do what is right, and don’t cloak it with something else.”

At least a dozen members of Congress want the name changed, as do some civil rights groups and vocal members of the national media. The people at the heart of the debate, though, are those at the grass-roots level among the more than 500 recognized tribes in the U.S. The MMQB took the temperature of Native Americans from coast to coast—representing 18 tribes in 10 states—and found a complicated and nuanced issue. What we did not find: the “overwhelming majority” that Snyder and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have claimed support the name “Redskins.”

We found opponents of the name in 18 tribes: veterans of the U.S. military, lawyers, college students, cultural center employees, school volunteers and restaurant servers. Their viewpoints align with official statements from dozens of tribes or inter-tribal councils and from the NCAI, which represents more than 250 tribal governments at the Embassy of Tribal Nations. Many of these people wondered how, or if, their voices are being counted.

By no means is there a consensus. We met a man in San Carlos who grew up rooting for Joe Theismann. Others pointed out how the Florida State Seminoles and Central Michigan Chippewas use Native American mascots with the approval and input of the tribes. Some whom we spoke to on the San Carlos and Big Cypress reservations said they had no opinion, and members of about a dozen other tribes or communities we reached out to did not respond or declined to be interviewed.

But team officials and the NFL paint a nearly uniform picture of support for the name, typically citing the results of a 2004 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that 90 percent of the 768 self-identified Native Americans polled said the team name “Redskins” did not bother them. (The question: “The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or doesn’t it bother you?”). That survey is 10 years old. Can the same opinion be applied today?

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498 comments
chilitom
chilitom

Simply a bunch of lawyers and politicians who bought into Bob Costa's puerile rants for their own aggrandizement If you don't like the name, don't buy their stuff and don't go to their games. In this long, disjoint windy article it said that in order for any government action such as removing protection from the name's commercial value, it has to be proven that at the time of adoption it was offensive to a significant number of people. History shows a tribe existed that called themselves 'Redskins'. Go spend your time and money on feeding the poor.

Barnoli
Barnoli

I am gonna vote for the "Washington Palefaces"

ChristopherBogart
ChristopherBogart

This always becomes a none issue for me whenever I see Native Americans on TV refer to themselves as Indians as in India and not Native Americans. Funny how you expect people to have a better understanding of your people when you don't even know the difference.

KGETZ3
KGETZ3

"Perhaps the most relevant question is not if there is a consensus among the country’s more than 5 million Native Americans—the answer is no—but rather, should a name change depend on one?"

You're right.

We should just depend on the superior opinions of enlightened white liberals.

S C
S C

Geez...can we just make up what is racist these days?  We should just do away with all color names and just call every damn crayon color NOT TRANSPARENT.  You can't be Yellow, you can't be White, you can't be Red, you can't be Black....well not Black in Spanish anyway.  We all can however be NOT TRANSPARENT

Jim Mouser
Jim Mouser

When the Red Mesa High School in Arizon residing on a reservation and servicing 97% Native American kids adopted Redskins as the name for their sports teams, I suppose they knew it was a racial slur and did it anyway?

When the principal was questioned about it recently, it was a big "so what. We have other worries than what our team name happens to be". Hardly evidence of any racial slur.

For about the last 70 years the name was on hundreds of schools, many on reservations. Only in the last 5 years or so have any "Redskin" schools reconsidered their names.


MichaelTailour
MichaelTailour

I wonder how many Americans know that almost all Indian cultures of the Americas were slave societies??? Not a matter of debate, it is a historical fact. Hell, quite a few of them were into human sacrifice also.  And how did Indians settle these lands prior to European settlement.  The same freaking way Europeans did; they killed or decimated every weaker tribe or group in their way.  As another matter of fact, the Oklahoma Territories sided with the South during the Civil War because those 'poor' Indians were using slave labor to make huge, huge profits.  How can Indians talk about inequality when even today, black members of the Cherokee and Creek nations are suing in court to get full recognition as members of those same tribes???  Why doesn't Eric Holder or Obama take care of that problem (rhetorical question: we already know that Chief Race-baiters 1 & 2 don't care about their own hypocrisy)???  So take all your touchy-feely nonsense, your irrational race-baiting, your freaking ignorance, and do the tomahawk chop with me right into the abyss.

JoeWade
JoeWade

Bunch of chicken chits, too weak to address the hard issues eh?

Amazing how much attention the media gives towards a sports icon and racism, while saying nothing about the racist acts of AIM's murder and hiding away of Perry Ray Robinson Jr. who marched with MLK, 40yrs and his family continues to call for the return of his body and yet NDN country and the media turn a deaf ear and close thier eyes while they yell racism about a team name.

Sickening! , Even the likes of Angela Davis and support groups will not raise their voice for such racism towards others from within .... GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT PEOPLE.

"“I was floored,” Oswald says. “Banks is not only aware of Robinson’s killing, but where he was buried, and he acknowledges his own role in where to bury the body.” It also lent credibility to the theory that AIM’s leadership wasn’t averse to frontier justice." - NY Times Article April 2014
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/magazine/who-killed-anna-mae.html

LarryTRobertson
LarryTRobertson

Can we see if there is a tribe that would adopt the Washington football team? No one complains about the Seminoles, do they? I can see that "Redskins" is offensive, there is really no other way to see it. But using, by the tribes approval, a tribal name brings respect, dignity and a sense of history and cultural education. People I think would want to learn about the tribe, its history, what its beliefs are. I think the Washington fans was truly embrace the change and the authentic feel of who they are, not a stereotype but part of a real living breathing people, a family, which is what all Washington Redskins fans think they are. Just a long shot chance at solving a very real and problematic situation.

RonAhmay
RonAhmay

Like Goddard, Shoemaker said that by the end of the 18th century, Native Americans were using "red" to describe themselves and to assert their pride of being North America's original inhabitants.

tony20009
tony20009

I think it's high time folks get over the mere word and focus on whether the team's owners and senior managers have actual racist leanings and have actually acted in a manner -- other than owning/running a team that had a name given it some 60 odd years ago -- that shows them to be racist or racist-leaning.  It's not the word itself that's necessarily offensive, but rather the thoughts and feelings of the folks who use it.  It's time as a nation that we start focusing on substance more than form.

cgwhitney
cgwhitney

I am one quarter native american and I find this entire discussion repulsive. There is absolutely nothing offensive about "Redskins". It is absolutely the opposite. It is honorable. How far is this going to go?! How about going after the Aniak, AK High school moniker of "Half Breeds"?! ...or the Spokane Indians (farm team of the Texas Rangers). Isn't "Indians" politically incorrect these days as well? Get a job, or at least another hobby for crying out loud! Harry Reid, get back to work and focus on something with substance for crying out loud! ...or better yet, retire.

eick74
eick74

In the article they point to the Annenberg 2004 poll that said 90% of Native Americans did not have a problem with the name and asked can that opinion still apply today. They also said they could not find the "overwhelming majority" that Snyder and Goddell said support the name. They obviously talked to many Native Americans but all they can say is that there is not a consensus. Makes me wonder what SI considers to be a overwhelming majority and what percentage of those that SI talked to do not have a problem with the name.


The fact that they did not include any numbers of that kind lead me to believe that the percentage is far too close to the Annenberg 2004 number that SI would like to admit.

pjohn7759
pjohn7759

I am Lipan Apache and I say leave the Washington Redskins name alone! Enough has been done and taken from Native Americans already seems like this issue now just wants to diminish our existence. Native Americans have different tribes like Lipan,Apache,Lakota,Navajo and Washington has there Redskins. Why after so many years does this become an issue. Everyone has his or her own opinion but one individual does not speak for us all.

BrutusTheBuckeye
BrutusTheBuckeye

Lets get real here... you can't get consensus among Native Americans so now you write an entire article trying to say you don't need a majority to be offended just a couple Native Americans.  This is a slippery slope of thinking for our country but a common thing for liberal Democrat white people looking to make themselves feel better about history.  This isn't the n-word or any other negative racial stereotype and it is what Native Americans came up with themselves.  The media has an agenda here and it is no coincidence that ESPN has come out with a coordinated effort where they claim they are open to debate yet 100% of their on-air personalities are against the Redskins.  83% of the country has no problem with it in the most recent poll of the country and there is a reason this author chose not to pay for a poll of Native Americans who use Redskins for their own youth team nicknames.  This is very similar to the gun debate where you have a minority of rich white people who think they get to make the rules for all the rest of us peasants.  Sorry, we still live in America and until the free markets demand that Snyder change his name then he should be left alone to run his business. 

chazatlas
chazatlas

NOBODY uses Redskin as a slur or derogatory term.  Native American Indians refer to themselves with pride as belonging to the "Red Nation."  There is the Red Nation Film Festival, dozens of community groups, etc.  Well, when they say the belong to the Red Nation, what "Red" are they talking about?  Red for the blood their people spilled when being massacred?  No, they are talking about their red skin.

chazatlas
chazatlas

The Atlanta Braves stopped using their "Screaming Indian" logo back in 1989.  You now have a generation of younger baseball fans and players that don't even realize the team is named after and in honor of, Native American Indians.  I randomly asked several young people in their teens & twenties if they knew what the ATL Braves were named after.  Most thought the name simply stood for being brave or courageous.  The only a couple of them knew it stood for Native American Indian Braves.  How did they know?  They grew up in households that had team memorabilia with the old Indian logo.  These handful of NAI's need to be careful what they ask for before their people truly get lost in obscurity. 

mrmach1
mrmach1

Teams are named in HONOR of something.......someone or some thing they hold in HIGH REGARD......Teams are not named after someone or something that is hated or despised.........Common sense anyone ?

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@Jim Mouser they are the only ones allowed to use the word, do you really not get that? The issue is not about sports, but rather the American desire to treat us as mascots, where is that desire rooted? Most likely in white guilt, though I truly cannot say for sure as I am not white. Anyways a true story, I remember going to a game on the Crow reservation, the Crow and the Northern Cheyenne both had the name Warriors or Indians, and before the two teams took the court, a bellowing cloud of burning sage came from the locker room and many of the older woman began their war cries for their grandchildren getting ready to face off in basketball. That is where the name belongs. Not to non-Native football fans with war paint on cheering on a team where not one member is Native.

cage09
cage09

@Jim Mouser so your argument is because of tradition/establishment?


Abe Lincoln "For the past 50 years, slavery has been okay!  When the head butler of Mississippi Plantation was asked about the N-word, it was a "big so what.  We have other worries than what they call us!"  Hardly any evidence,right?


I can't wait till Jim's older generations start dying off, madre de dios

chilitom
chilitom

@MichaelTailour This is about a team named for an extinct tribe. Like the Vikings? Who needs to bring this stuff in? Most Indians today are nice people. They've given up on cannibalism, slavery, car theft, the whole nine yards. I think I'll turn my Klamath son-in-law on you guys. But we'll let it pass for some 'Skins ducats..........

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@MichaelTailour Africans also were slave societies, I guess you did not know that, but now since you do, does that mean slavery is OK? I'm not clear on your reasoning, but thank you for doing what I can't, highlighting one of the many issues with Native mascots in sports teams. It allows for the uneducated like yourself to do what you are doing, and that is to cram us all in a big "Native" box complete with war paint and eagle feathers. Not all native societies did all of the those things in the way portrayed in your mascots. It is a matter of voice and who gets to speak for me? You get to speak for me? Or do I get to speak for me? Back to slaves, actually of the tribes I know of, we did not have slavery as you know of it, the people captured became part of our societies free to marry and act as us. For my knowledge they could have escaped and went back to their people but that gets a bit more complicated to speak of here, you might actually have to read a book to learn about that, anyways that is very different than the slavery you speak of don't you think?

chilitom
chilitom

@LarryTRobertson Should some of them pop up I am sure the Redskins would gladly associate with the Redskins. Especially for some 50 yard season passes. Maybe the Redskin tribe is not extinct. Look how the Pequot tribe popped up over Fox-wood and Mohican Sun. Who'da thunk?

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@LarryTRobertson The issue with that is that it strips the rest of the tribes of their voices. I understand, and appreciate, the wish to make this a non-issue, but in the end it is an issue and the way to fix it is just to change the name, The Washington Independence maybe? I will be most proud the day the mascot is changed. As for our voice, mine and my people, we did not dress or act like the Redskin mascot, but we still are here and have survived the greatest holocaust the world has ever seen, we have a voice here in Arizona and we are offended, because it makes a big "Native" box that we are all to fit in, and that does not work because Natives here are a dynamic group, speaking over 200 languages, we even look very different. So if one tribe were to accept the mascot it does not make it OK by all the tribes.

LarryTRobertson
LarryTRobertson

Excuse my grammar snafu, I did not spell check before I posted, Lol!

LarryTRobertson
LarryTRobertson

@RonAhmay it's amusing that at the end of the century a lot of minorities were trying to define or redefine themselves. In a search for identity a people will move through stages, as their view of themselves and their place and position in the world changes. It is now the 21st century and maybe that sentiment is not the same. Just a thought.

chilitom
chilitom

@tony20009 How 'bout the Washington Criminals? Name the team after the folks in the senate. But wait! Washington owned slaves! Call them the District Attorneys. That's the same as the Washington Criminals.

LarryTRobertson
LarryTRobertson

@tony20009 I could almost agree with you but racism is not that easy to define or outlaw, or morally destroy. If it is high time we as people get over something it is the idea that words don't hurt, they don't  help to define and shape our world view, and they don't cause us to be callous of other people's feelings because it seems okay and what's the big deal anyway. Hey just another person's view on your view. Be Blessed and have a nice day


DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@cgwhitney I am one sixteenth German, should I be offended by something against Germans? Should I speak for them? Maybe the actual Germans would like to speak for themselves, just a thought.

cage09
cage09

@cgwhitney 

I didn't realize you were the ambassador of all native american people with your quarter-status.


Let's disregard the thousands of living natives who signed a petition saying it offends and demeans them - Hey NFL, CG Whitney over here is not even a majority of Native ethnically, shoot not even a third, but this person has no problem with it! We've figured dt out, the name is OKAY!

skyking812
skyking812

@cgwhitney He IS working!  Things like the above are what Harry Reid does: race baiting, sewing racial disharmony. 


What I'd love to know is who is funding and organizing this upstart "Name Changer" business?  Seems like business to me.  This "issue" was barely a blip on the radar a few short years ago; now one can't go a full day without running across it somewhere.


A campaign this organized takes lots of money and manpower.  Who's at the top of the pyramid?

MelCorp
MelCorp

@eick74  And supposedly the team was named for the original coach who was 1/2 Native American.

MelCorp
MelCorp

@eick74  I live in CT and we have Native American casinos here. There is a sports shop in Mohegan Sun that is casino owned (not a franchise).  The shop only carries local teams; Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants, Jets, Patriots and... the Washington Redskins.  There are several other teams between CT and Washington, the Steelers, the Eagles etc, but they pretty much don't have any of their memorabilia.  I found that interesting.  How come there isn't a bigger stink over the Cleveland Indians?  And Chief Wahoo?   I mean there is some outrage over Wahoo but every year it seems like the Redskins name becomes a national story.

KGETZ3
KGETZ3

@eick74 Yep and despite numerous polls that tend to show majority support for the name they decide to start each page using quotes that are almost completely against the name.

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@BrutusTheBuckeye who says it is not like the N-word? who gets to decide that? white people? We in Arizona are very much offended.

Tomahawk903
Tomahawk903

@BrutusTheBuckeye go to any establishment with a group of Native American Indians present that are OFFENDED by that slur and yell out `HEY REDSKINS` and lets see if you walk out alive. case closed.

skyking812
skyking812

@BrutusTheBuckeye "...a common thing for liberal Democrat white people looking to make themselves feel better about history."

You hit the nail on the head, my friend. As much as anything else, this is about erasing the memory of American Indians, and thus all the wrongs that were visited upon them.  It distresses me to see so many sincere Native peoples fall into a trap intended to further marginalize them.

But if you've tried explaining this to a Name Changer, you've already discovered that they listen impatiently (when they listen at all), and then regurgitate the very same talking points as before, in the same order.  Saul Alinsky's RULES FOR RADICALS explains how to do this, so they're working from a playbook, no doubt about it.

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@chazatlas so i can make a team on the rez called the Tuba City Whiteboyz and you cool with that? I would be in honor of the great whiteboys that destroy everyone that opposes them. Does that sound good?

skyking812
skyking812

@chazatlas There is, not unimportantly, the State of Oklahoma, unfortunate destination for many tribes who walked on, and died on, the Trail of Tears.  "Oklahoma" is Choctaw for "Red People".


Nobody seems very upset about this.  Nor should they be.

skyking812
skyking812

@mrmach1 Correct.  No one would ever name a sports team the "Wife Beaters", now would they?

chilitom
chilitom

@cage09 @Jim Mouser Actually it was well established in most of the colonies long before our Independence the slavery was not OK, and only in Africa and the Middle East is slavery yet OK. But this is a team name among a bevy of other team names that the righteously repulsive could attack, like the Celtics, the Devils, The Fighting Irish, The Braves, The Seminoles, etc., etc. Give it a rest! It is not the same! Spend more time with the poor and the sick and walk away from the computer.

DustinTroisi
DustinTroisi

@skyking812 @cgwhitney Maybe it was just a blimp on the radar because most natives were still worried about being taken away to boarding schools? But now we have college educations and a bit of money and time to worry about other things than survival.

chilitom
chilitom

@MelCorp @eick74 Its because Bob Costa is trying to rise from irrelevance back to his salad days of mediocrity.

chilitom
chilitom

@Tomahawk903 @BrutusTheBuckeye In my few visits to the Big Rez, Redskin gear, Cleveland gear and other Indian-team-connected gear was worn quite common amongst the kids we saw....

chilitom
chilitom

@DustinTroisi @chazatlas Sure! Ever hear of the Fighting Irish? The Celts? Get a life! Now is the season for feeding the poor, other charitable work.

Milothecat
Milothecat

@skyking812 @mrmach1          teams are sometimes named after objects of fear (pirates=terrorists of the sea, raptors, bears, lions, etc.)

Milothecat
Milothecat

@skyking812 @mrmach1          some are called after hated enemies (boll weevils) and some are just for a good laugh or whimsy (banana slugs).

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