On Friday, I was a part of a telephone press conference to make it clear to the public, to the Washington NFL team, and The Washington Post that our fight to eliminate the R-word is far from over.
We took a stand to demonstrate that a single poll conducted by The Washington Post will not shut us up, make us back down, nor does it make any difference in our fight.
The press conference, organized and moderated by the Change the Mascot Campaign, which included speakers such as Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation Representative, the National Congress of American Indians’ Executive Director, Jacqueline Pata; James Fenelon, Professor of Sociology and Direct of Center for Indigenous Peoples Studies at California State University at San Bernardino, Dr. Stephanie Fryberg, Professor of American Indian Studies and Psychology at the University of Washington, and last but not least, David Grosso, Washington D.C. Councilmember At-Large who introduced a resolution, which passed unanimously, calling on the Washington NFL team to change its name.
A few things I wanted to highlight at this press conference:
-Dr. Fryberg re-focused and reminded the press that the anti-Native mascot campaign is not a decision of public opinion but about the wellbeing of our youth. Dr. Fryberg conducted studies and her research has shown Native mascots and stereotypes are harmful to our Native AND non-Native youth.
-Polling a human rights issue is inhumane. This was highlighted throughout.
-There continues to be significant support within the Washington D.C. council in name change efforts.
-There has been and continues to be a tremendous amount of support from tribal leadership as represented by the National Congress of American Indians. The NCAI conducted a thorough analysis of The Washington Post poll and debunks their methodology and findings.
-Not only is there a fight to change the slur within the NFL, there are also successful efforts and ongoing efforts in elementary schools and in high schools throughout the nation.
Friday’s press conference was a monumental moment, and I am glad these many groups of advocates were able to gather to address this issue, which took the nation by storm two weeks ago. I was awaiting questions from The Washington Post regarding the poll, but a reporter from the newspaper who was on the call didn’t ask any.
I want to share my statement with the world because The Washington Post in its poll did not acknowledge the very people who have been affected by the slur. In such a rare and opportune moment, they fell silent, but yet feel very comfortable publishing articles about our work, about our struggles and our people. Here are my words to the press, uncensored and unabridged:
I come today to make a clear statement that our fight to change the slur name of the Washington Team is not over. Our fight to end racism toward Native people, and the fight to end cultural appropriation of indigenous people is not over. Indigenous people have been calling for a name change for decades and the recent misguided poll conducted by the Washington Post will not change that.
The recent poll was an attack on the Indigenous voice and our movement to end racism. It attempted to silence advocates who for decades, even before I was born had been fighting. The poll attempted to also silence those who’ve been damaged and hurt by the racial slur. It seemingly attempted to dwindle the millions of indigenous people throughout this continent who’ve demanded a name change to mere numbers. It trivialized the voices of the hundreds of Sovereign Nations and notable Native organizations who’ve also demanded a name change. Polling a human rights issue is inhumane.
This is after all a human rights issue. Let me remind people that the word was and continues to be a derogatory term. This was solidified in a recent ruling, last year in Blackhorse et. al. vs. Pro Football.
It is a dictionary defined racial slur. It is not commonly used to describe Native people because it is socially unacceptable to do so. It’s a term that perpetuates stereotypes of Native people and is especially harmful to our Native children. You will hear much more of this from the distinguished social scientist here today.
Need I also remind people that the term “redskin” was also used on wanted ad signs in the time of human bounty hunting of Native people.
It was used to describe scalps, pieces of flesh. It was proof of kill during the period of the extermination of the indigenous population. These are not mere statements, but facts.
Expert witness in my case, Blackhorse vs. Pro Football – Geoffrey Nunberg concludes in his expert testimony the term is a slur and it “conveys a negative judgment of the members of the group” and it connotes negative terms such as bloodthirsty, savage, murderous, treacherous, and pesky and that it is not synonymous with terms like friendly, loyal, or courageous. It is a pejorative term. It’s a slur and it’s a term I’ve asked the Washington Football team owner if he would dare call me to my face – I’ve never received a straight answer to that question. If it were respectful, well, I wouldn’t be asking this question again today.
So today we are here to say that we are still here, we will not go away. Our fight continues, and we will prevail.
Native people have always struggled with being visible in mainstream media, and it appeared that with one poll and subsequent article, the Post sent us 10 steps back in our movement to end Native mascots. But it has always been my belief that when Native people are targeted, we come back threefold. We come back stronger and more united than before. We continue to prevail and we will NEVER go away.