Oneida Indian Nation representative, Ray Halbritter

Redskins Name-Change Symposium: Where Were Snyder and Goodell?

Rob Capriccioso

An emotion-laden symposium sponsored October 7 by the Oneida Indian Nation in Washington, D.C. highlighted the voices of many people aggrieved by the Washington NFL team’s racist Redskins name and mascot.

“No matter what the history of something is, if it is offending people, then it’s time to change it,” said Ray Halbritter, Oneida Indian Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, in his introductory remarks. “It’s a dictionary-defined offensive term.”

Held at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown, the event featured many more American Indian leaders and citizens explaining that the term is a racial slur that does not honor anyone. There was also a psychologist detailing the harmful emotional social and psychological effects of such mascots on both Indian and non-Indian children (backed up by recent scientific studies); there was a Smithsonian director discussing the negative historical and contemporary roots of the word; there were high school youth who had taken on similarly offensive school names in their school districts and gotten them removed; and there were congressional legislators, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Washington, D.C.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), working their political pathways to drive change.

But there was no Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins since 1999 who made news in May when he said he would “never” change the team’s name, despite the growing criticism of it. And there was no Roger Goodell, commissioner of the National Football League, who spotlighted Snyder’s position when he said on a radio program in September, “[I]f we are offending one person, we need to be listening and making sure that we’re doing the right things to try to address that.”

Halbritter said at the event that he was disappointed that no NFL representatives chose to attend. He said they had been invited, and the symposium was held in D.C. to coincide with the NFL’s fall meeting in the city specifically to make it easier for NFL representatives to be there. He also noted that his tribe has been a sponsor of the Buffalo Bills, and it supports the football league financially as a business partner.

“We made it as convenient as possible for them to attend, but no one is attending,” said Halbritter, whose tribal nation is currently carrying out a large publicity campaign, called "Change the Mascot,” which is featuring radio ads in D.C. and other NFL cities that explain why the name offends so many Native Americans.

“We have not been in contact with Dan Snyder, but we would welcome any conversation on this issue,” Halbritter added.

Suzan Shown Harjo, an American Indian activist who has been battling for decades to get the team’s trademark revoked, told ICTMN at the gathering that she had sent Snyder a letter in 1999 when he first took over the team, requesting a meeting on this issue. He did not respond to her request, which surprised her, especially in a town where perfunctory form letters are the norm.

“Dan Snyder has acted like a petulant child,” Harjo said. “He has dug in his heels, like a child. He’s being a big baby.”

Does Harjo think all the current attention, including the recent message from President Barack Obama that he would change the name if he were in Snyder’s shoes, will cause him to reconsider?

“I think he has to,” Harjo said. “It’s going to be not worth keeping it at some point.”

NFL leaders beyond Snyder are getting the message and feeling the pressure. Soon after the conclusion of the symposium, well covered by local and national media, a spokesman for the league announced that it would send a representative to meet with Oneida Indian Nation leaders. Adolpho Birch, the NFL's senior vice president of labor policy and government affairs, plans to meet with the tribe this fall, according to a spokesman. Birch has requested that that the meeting take place somewhere in New York, either on the tribe’s homelands in upstate New York or in Manhattan.

Halbritter said he is looking forward to the meeting. “It’s the right direction,” he said. “I think there is a real tipping point happening on this issue right now.”

But he cautioned that he will not negotiate: “These mascots need to end because they are disparaging. As we saw today, there is scientific evidence that it damages not only Native children, but all children. That cannot go on anymore.”

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mememine69's picture
Submitted by mememine69 on
With the name; BLACK HISTORY MONTH killing ANY chance of us all being blind to color,if the Washington team changes their name it should be the Washington Thin Skins. BLACK is a color not a race! You told us to be blind to color and then shove BLACK HISTORY MONTH at us?

ghosthunter007's picture
Submitted by ghosthunter007 on
cry me a river. To many people get butt hurt over stupid crap.

Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
“Dan Snyder has acted like a petulant child,” Harjo said. “He has dug in his heels, like a child. He’s being a big baby.” Ten to one that Dan Snyder is a Republican. Take note WHO among politicians is protesting the Redskin's name - Democrats. It's not that I'm particularly pro-Democrat, but it's clear to everyone who is NOT willing to compromise OR negotiate. It's always the rich, White, spoiled brats who want to eat their cake and have it too. TO Mememine69: You're right black IS a color and not a race, just like red is a color and not a race. BUT, black is a color attributed racially to people of African descent and red is a color attributed to Native Americans. They're BOTH racially charged words and depending on the context and the person using them they can be fighting words. Also, no one is REALLY color blind when it comes down to it. I don't think this is a bad thing - people should be proud of their race and culture, BUT not to the point that they're willing to discriminate against others.

Butts Larue
Butts Larue
Submitted by Butts Larue on
Indian children are being stolen from Indian parents, shipped from Oklahoma to South Carolina, and these fools are wasting their time, energy, resources, and money on this? Scary.

builds-the-fire's picture
Submitted by builds-the-fire on
mememine69, the search for an appropriate name for African-Americans to use as a group has taken a long road, and is even longer still. "Black" as some African-Americans even today refer to themselves as being began as a powerful self-reminder during the 60s that as a group, "Negroes" are intelligent, beautiful and desirable. The historical (self-identifying) use of “Black” in "Black History Month" doesn't detract from the “Redskins” argument any more than “United Negro College Fund” does. These terms add to the argument against the “Redskins” name. What name to use as a race belongs with that race, especially given the history of the African in the United States. It is a distraction from the “Redskins” argument to try to parallel how African-Americans self-identify.

Robbert Hoekstra's picture
Robbert Hoekstra
Submitted by Robbert Hoekstra on
Please tell why Native Americans or the indigenous people are offended by football or baseball teams using “Indian” names? Then why is the name Indian not offensive to them? The name Indian was used by the first Europeans who discovered the “New World” for the native people they first encountered, because in their ignorance they believed they had discovered the Spice Islands of India, the islands of the Malay Archipelago, the present day Indonesia and the Philippines. And … before Columbus discovered America there were no Indians in America, and no land named America for that matter. Like in Europe and anywhere else, there were people living in the “New World”, but no Indians. As the Europeans occupied and claimed the land, as if it was theirs for the taking, the name Indian became a derogatory “label” for the native peoples of America, just like they used “Darkie”, “Nigger”, “Kaffir”, “Coolie” and “China man” in America and other parts of the world. It would be like American Natives labeling the Europeans as Chinese had they ventured out to discover China and landed in Europe instead. So, where is the outcry over the use of the “label” Indian? Who has the ownership of the name “Washington Redskins”? Indians have gambling casinos, why not have a football of baseball team and call it the “Indigenous Whiteskins”?

curtj's picture
Submitted by curtj on
Too many of our leaders refuse to educate themselves to the history of this continent before, and since, famed syphillis afflicted lost slaver, rapist and mass murderer, Christopher Columbus, stumbled onto these shores. As with the original illegal European immigrants who stole and murdered their way across this country, the descendants of those illegal aliens carry on the policies of colonialism their ancestors used. For centuries the European and American governments have invaded other countries to enable their freebooters, thieves, murderers and corporations to steal natural resources. while enslaving and committing genocide against the indigenous peoples. Nowadays our government spends trillions to invade, but more often than not, the trillions are used to bribe foreign governments, but mostly to destabilize democratically elected governments with assassinations and coups at the hands of American CIA. This enables American backed despot dictators to get into power where they are propped up by America until they get out of line, like Saddam and Bin Laden, then they're replaced with another American favorite. America spends trillions to invade or prop up dictators. The military industrial complex and the oil, energy and mining conglomerates rake in the blood money profits off stolen and coerced natural resources, of which some profits go into the propped up dictators coffers but none for his people. With some of the profits also going into our bribed political prostitutes pockets. They get the profits and America gets the trillion dollar bill and resulting terrorist attacks.