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What’s in a name: Native American mascot controversy heats up

Commentary

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 19:10

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President Barack Obama expressed his opinion that the Redskins should change their name.

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Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo.

Many so-called “experts” have weighed in their opinions about how the name of the Washington Redskins is blatantly racist and should be changed. As a human being I agree that the name Redskins is offensive and should be changed, but it is none of my business to tell a team what they can and cannot do.

To solely tell one team that they need to get rid of their name, while others can still use theirs is hypocrisy. Unless every theme that portrays Native Americans in a negative manner is abolished, the only people that have a right to change the name of this team are the owner and the fans that have loyally supported this team.  
A lot of this is directed at the fact that the name “Redskins” was used as a derogatory way to reference someone of Native American ethnicity. But then one looks at other names such as Braves, Indians, and Chiefs consider these different from the name Redskins because they don’t directly insult Native Americans.

The word Indian itself doesn’t accurately identify indigenous people. The word Indian was used by Christopher Columbus because he thought that he was India, when he wasn’t. The mascot for the Cleveland Indians, “Chief Wahoo,” looks way more insulting to Native Americans than the logo for the Washington Redskins by itself. He is a very bright color red cartoon, with bright smiling white teeth.

“I’ve got to say that if I were the owner of the team and I knew that there was a name of my team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it,” said President Barack Obama in an interview with the Associated Press. If the president considers this matter an injustice, perhaps he and all his friends at Capitol Hill should begin to address the atrocities that this government has done to Native Americans in the past 200 years.

“Not once have we ever received any kind of formal apologies for the pain and suffering we have endured,” said Santa Rosa Junior College professor Brenda Flyswithhawks. Flyswithhawks addressed Sonoma State earlier this year during the Holocaust Lecture Series.

Every year since 1937 the government has always recognized the second Monday in October as Columbus Day. This is supposed to honor the fact that Columbus discovered North America back in the year 1492. Many Native American groups also find this offensive due to the fact that there were already indigenous people who discovered the continent.

“As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force …With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” said Columbus in his captain’s log referenced from “A People’s History of the United States.”

It is comfortable to say that a change in a holiday recognized nationwide for a man that murdered hundreds would be a little more important than changing a football team’s name.

Sonoma State University is no stranger to offensive names after its decades of battle over the former mascot the Cossack. For readers unfamiliar with the Cossack, the Cossacks were most well-known for massacring approximately 100,000 non-Christians during the Russian Revolution.

Thirteen years ago, the Academic Senate voted an overwhelming 24-3 to abolish the name of the Cossack, and change it to something else. At the same time the Student Senate passed a measure similar to that. Two years later the decision was left to President Ruben Armiñana to choose between the two finalists; the Condor and the Seawolf. Luckily the Seawolf became the mascot that everyone knows and loves.

The fact that a school could come together both faculty and students to realize that even an injustice like a mascot that’s defined this school for decades was hurtful to people here and afar.  They didn’t need to be bullied by outside parties who have no right to weigh in on something that isn’t their business.

Until every holiday and team name that portrays Native Americans in a negative way is gotten rid of, then these so called “experts” have no right to tell the Washington Redskins that their name needs to be changed.

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2 comments

Chris Owens
Wed Oct 23 2013 19:20
I share the exact same sentiments as you. I've studied the atrocities that the government has done to Native Americans and I completely support the cleansing of inappropriate names, but singling out one team to do it is just putting a band aid over a bullet wound; it's not going to change anything when other teams are still allowed to do it. Until all names that negatively portray Native Americans are removed, then I feel that this will not solve the ROOT of the problem
Anonymous
Wed Oct 23 2013 17:40
The Red Road
If you are interested in hearing a Native American perspective on the mascot issue, this is an excerpt from "Wolf at Twilight" by Kent Nerburn.

A white man and an elderly Native man became pretty good friends, so the white guy decided to ask him: "What do you think about Indian mascots?"

The Native elder responded, "Here's what you've got to understand. When you look at black people, you see ghosts of all the slavery and the rapes and the hangings and the chains. When you look at Jews, you see ghosts of all those bodies piled up in death camps. And those ghosts keep you trying to do the right thing.

"But when you look at us you don't see the ghosts of the little babies with their heads smashed in by rifle butts at the Big Hole, or the old folks dying by the side of the trail on the way to Oklahoma while their families cried and tried to make them comfortable, or the dead mothers at Wounded Knee or the little kids at Sand Creek who were shot for target practice. You don't see any ghosts at all.

"Instead you see casinos and drunks and junk cars and shacks.

"Well, we see those ghosts. And they make our hearts sad and they hurt our little children. And when we try to say something, you tell us, 'Get over it. This is America. Look at the American dream.' But as long as you're calling us Redskins and doing tomahawk chops, we can't look at the American dream, because those things remind us that we are not real human beings to you. And when people aren't humans, you can turn them into slaves or kill six million of them or shoot them down with Hotchkiss guns and throw them into mass graves at Wounded Knee.

"No, we're not looking at the American dream. And why should we? We still haven't woken up from the American nightmare."





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