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The Redskins Controversy; Let the Natives Speak

The controversy over the Washington Redskins nickname has been boiling furiously for several weeks now. In all of the hub-bub, actual quotes from Native Americans have been rare. I decided to find out what they think.

Jason Miller

I am not the only one to notice the lack of Native input on the Washington Redskins controversy. (You may want to peruse this.) My bull***t detector has been going off ever since this browbeating conversation began. It always does, when rich, out-of-touch elitists start championing someone who is clearly not in their social circle. Lead by Sen. Harry Reid (D. NV), the usual sycophants joined in the chorus. Noticeably missing are the voices of Native Americans themselves, the purported victims of this outrage.

It so happens that I have quite a few Native Americans in my social circle and I asked them to give me their opinions on this topic. Here is what two of them had to say...(See note at bottom)

Bill is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps and hails from the Chippewa tribe. Greg is a chef and comes from the Cherokee nation.

As you are probably aware, there has been a movement lately to force the Washington Redskins to change their team name, due to a perceived disrespect to Native-Americans. As a Native yourself, do you feel that the team name is disrespectful?

Bill - To answer these questions, I must first state that my family is originally from the Red Lake area of Minnesota. My ancestry stems from the Pillager Band of the Red Lake Chippewa. In no way shape or form do I find the name "Redskin" disrespectful.

Greg- The name isn't disrespectful to me, because its an old term that isn't used anymore.

Some have posited that the name itself is not offensive so much as the 'Tomahawk Chop' is. What are your thoughts on the 'Tomahawk Chop'?

Bill- Regarding the "tomahawk chop", not only is it amusing to watch, but I find it energizing when the crowd cheers.

Greg- There is nothing wrong with the tomahawk chop. Its just another way to symbolize the team. And if that's whats offensive to people, why don't they make the Florida State Seminoles change things? They've used the chop a lot longer.

Of the people protesting the Redskins name, very few seem to be Native-Americans. Amongst the Natives that you know, are there any that have strong feelings on the name and it's perceived implications?

Bill- Most of the natives that I know of, are happy to have the symbol of the Native alive and well.

Greg- Everyone in my family thinks them being forced to change their name is ridiculous.

[Follow up to last question]Supposing that you are not offended by the name, how do you feel about others being offended for you?

Bill- [No reply]

Greg- And as for others being offended for me, I think they need to shut up, these few people don't know how I or any other Native American feel.

50 members of the Senate signed a letter in support of changing the team's name. While neither an official act, nor binding on anything, give us the Native view on this, please.

Bill- If a vote is required to change the name, it should be from the native peoples of America.

Greg- The Senate just likes to try to decide things on behalf of the people, but its really only in favor of themselves, and they think doing this will make them look good to those "being offended"

The U.S. Patent office has rescinded the trademarks on the Redskins team name as it is "disparaging to Native Americans." How would you respond to this?

Bill- The native people have been disrespected  and persecuted since the white man stole their land. To keep the "Indian Spirit" alive, [ ] the symbol should be kept and celebrated.

Greg- if they are making one team change their name for being "disparaging to Native Americans" why don't they make the Chicago Blackhawks, or FSU Seminoles or, the Cleveland Indians and so on, change their names also?

Do you have anything else that you would like to say on this subject?

Bill- To best describe my feelings on this subject, is to say that as an American Indian, I find it extremely offensive for the do-gooders of this Nation, to wipe us out of the spot light. Once and for all....

Greg- I believe that this is only an issue because people are trying to be overly "politically correct" and we don't need to be, there were no problems with team names being offensive back 20 years ago when we weren't as "pc".


So, this interview is hardly the be-all/end-all of the debate as only two of my Native friends completed the interview. It is simply that as the debate rages, I keep asking myself, "Where are the Indians? What do they have to say?" It was all the more mystifying, since as stated before, I happen to know quite a few Natives and this was simply a non starter to them. As I began seeking their opinions, most shrugged their shoulders and dismissed it out of hand.

Still, without serious input by Native Americans themselves, the question of the Redskins changing their team name is rather silly. "We don't want to offend you, so we are going to change the name" having never bothered to ask if they were offended in the first place. A poll of Native Americans could be easily arranged and I submit that that and only that, should be the deciding criteria.

*Note- I asked a total of six to take this interview. Two declined outright, two more accepted, but then failed to respond. In the interests of full disclosure, one of those that agreed, but never responded, is most certainly in favor of changing the name. I regret not having her responses to provide a counterpoint.