Home News Native Americans say Washington’s name change “signals the beginning” of further reckoning

Native Americans say Washington’s name change “signals the beginning” of further reckoning

by Paul Goldberg

NBC News reports it was more than a sports logo, it was a symbol.

On Monday, Washington’s NFL team announced that it would change its nickname and logo, which has been long been decried as racist and dehumanizing by Native American advocates. Owner Dan Snyder had previously vowed that he would “never” change the name — but that was before demonstrators across the United States and beyond took to the streets after the death of George Floyd to protest systemic racism.

Amid the momentum of the Black Lives Matters movement, sponsors including FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the field in Maryland where the team plays and officially asked for the name change this month, increased the pressure on the franchise.

Change has been the operative word in tribal communities of late: The Supreme Court ruled on July 9 that a large swath of eastern Oklahoma remains a Native American reservation based on a treaty signed with the Creek Nation in the 19th Century. This month, there have also been legal victories for Native environmental activists in their attempts to block two major oil pipelines. Statues of Christopher Columbus, whose arrival in the New World heralded the conquest and mass murder in the eyes of many Indigenous Americans, have been toppled in several states.

In short, 2020 is shaping up to be a chapter unlike most others in American history books for Native Americans.

“I see this moment in history as a day of reckoning that Native Americans have known is ahead of us because of what we’ve endured for 20 generations of intergenerational trauma as a result of genocide,” said Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, the largest and oldest Native American advocacy organization in the country.

“This is a moment we believe that we’re finally seeing the principles that this country is built upon it — equality, racial and social justice,” added Sharp, who is also president of the Quinault Indian Nation in Taholah, Washington.

Of all the recent victories, scrapping the Washington team name might be the most high profile. The name, changed from the Braves in 1933 when the team was still in Boston, had an ancient legacy by pro sports standards.

Many Native American elders, however, have called the nickname a slur as offensive as the N-word. There is some debate over the origin of the word, which may have been used by Native Americans to describe their own people to French traders, but newspapers showed a more sinister use by the 1860s, when the word was used in bounties offered for scalps and skins of slain Indians. There was a market for them much the same as for animal pelts.

Unaware or unmoved by that history, supporters of the nickname have cited a 2016 Washington Post poll that found 9 out of 10 Native American respondents were “not bothered” by the term. Even now, many are expressing their outrage on social media over the team’s decision.

But one of the most celebrated players in the franchise’s history isn’t among them.

“It’s a day to celebrate,” Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green told NBC News on Monday. “It’s a word that we wouldn’t want if the shoe was on the other foot. It’s part of this tapestry of pain and events in actions that took place in this country for many years.

“This is a wrong that is (being fixed) as a part of the reconciling of America, and I’m glad to be alive to see it,” said Green, who played for the team from 1983 to 2002.

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