If you're not Native American or a football fan, you might think that the Washington Redskins name change controversy doesn't affect you, so there's no reason to get involved. Please let me disabuse you of this notion.
America has a very unpleasant history of treatment towards our indigenous people that most of us don't like to think about.
If you're a typical American you were probably taught history that began when Columbus "discovered" America. What you know about the people who already lived here is probably pretty fuzzy. Perhaps a vague something about people in skimpy outfits with feather headdresses, bows and arrows, living in tipis. These people were either terrible savages that attacked the poor colonists or nice savages that showed them how to live in the new land and shared a lovely Thanksgiving meal with them.
When you think about what those people are like now, it's probably also pretty fuzzy. Some vague image involving casinos, alcoholism and some kind of spiritual connection with nature.
The actual truth of our American history is much too painful for most of us to bear. Columbus didn't discover America, there were already people here. Millions of people were intentionally, brutally massacred. Those that survived were forced onto reservations, their lands and ways of life taken from them by force.
As if this genocide weren't enough, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the government inflicted a cultural warfare on the remaining American Indian population. Babies were taken from their parents and adopted out to white families whenever possible. Children were taken from their parents and forced into boarding schools where they were treated as slave labor and punished for speaking their own language or practicing their customs.
This might seem like ancient history, but it's not. Native Americans continue to be subjected to terrible racism and bigotry. Like the owner of the Washington Redskins refusing to change the name of the team despite the protest of millions of Native Americans who are tired of being objectified and insulted.
We have acknowledged that kidnapping and enslaving people from Africa was wrong, and fired the owner of the Clippers for making racist comments. Yet when it comes to our indigenous people, we have yet to make a stand.
Today the US Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the federal trademark of the Redskins due to it's offensive nature. This seems like good news, but a similar ruling was overthrown in 1999. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins has pledged to "never" change the name. Unless the majority of Americans are willing to stand together with our Native people and say "This is wrong, it's time to change it", this ruling could be overturned again.
I don't understand what Dan Snyder is thinking, how he can justify claiming that he knows more about what is offensive to another culture than the people from that culture. It is mind boggling to me. I would like him to imagine how he would feel if there was a German soccer team called the "German Candles" with a sterotypical image of a Jew as their mascot. How would he feel if the team owner declared that he would never change the name and denied that this was offensive to Jews, even though the owner was not a Jew himself?
I grew up on the Navajo Nation and am very familiar with tribal customs and culture. Many of my best friends are Native American. But I am not, and I would never presume to say what is and isn't offensive to a culture that is not mine. I don't have to guess whether the use of the name Redskins is offensive or not, it is enough for me that many people from many different tribes have expressed that they feel that it is.
It is time to change the name.
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!