Rick Reilly

Blackfeet Elder Says Rick Reilly Misquoted Him; Wants ‘Redskins’ Banned

Bob Burns

There are a few things I’m passionate about in life, and one is to share the true history of how our people have overcome the trauma of 150 years of attempts to erase the Blackfeet people. My great, great grandfather, Chief Heavy Runner, and 173 of his band were slaughtered in Montana in what was called the Baker Massacre in 1870. We Blackfeet call it the Bear River Massacre because we give no honor at all to Col. Eugene Baker -- they were all women and children, my relatives.

My great grandmother survived the massacre that bitter cold day on January 23, 1870. Her name was Lone Charge and she was oldest child of Chief Heavy Runner’s children. Ben Bennett’s book Death, Too, For the Heavy Runner tells how the people were down with smallpox, sick and starving. Chief Heavy Runner had sent all the able-bodied men out to hunt for food. The soldiers attacked the wrong camp. But when it was pointed out to him that these were friendly Indians, and when the people pleaded for mercy for the children, Col. Baker said “nits breed lice.” He likely called them “dirty redskins.” That is how we perceive the use of the word “redskins.”

Bob BurnsThe story has been omitted from the Montana history books, so I’ve made it a point to tell the correct story to honor our people massacred that day. As the owner of three supper clubs in Montana, I decided to use placemats and art to tell the Blackfeet story to our visitors. The dining room in our Supper Club in Shelby, Mont, now closed, right near the massacre site, was called the “Heavy Runner Room” to honor those lost relatives. We had another supper club in Whitefish, now closed, where we also illustrated Blackfeet history for our international visitors.

Our original supper club -- the Babb Bar Cattle Baron Supper Club -- located at the Babb entryway to Glacier National Park, remains open and just finished its 17th season. To educate the public and our young people, I had a 200-foot-long mural painted around the building. The story shows that as a people, the Blackfeet have survived near extinction, but are still intact with a strong sense of identity.

The mural shows the Blackfeet speaking, people taking their place in this age of technology, and contributing what wisdom was given to our people to keep. The pictographs show the tribal colleges starting with their mission to teach our own history as part of the curriculum. It shows the language returning again through the immersion school, language programs, and sacred Bundles returning home from museums after the passage of the Graves Protection Act of 1990. I’ve spent a lifetime humbly working to learn, to preserve, to teach and to help us to remember who we are as a distinct people.

So you can imagine my dismay when I saw my name and words used to defend the racist Washington Redskins name. My son-in-law, ESPN’s Rick Reilly, completely misunderstood the conversation we had, quoting me as saying “the whole issue is so silly. The name just doesn't bother me much. It's an issue that shouldn't be an issue, not with all the problems we've got in this country."

But that’s not what I said.

What I actually said is that “it’s silly in this day and age that this should even be a battle -- if the name offends someone, change it.” He failed to include my comments that the term “redskins” demeans Indians, andhistorically is insulting and offensive, and that I firmly believe the Washington Redskins should change their name.

When Rick’s article came out, it upset me to be portrayed as an “Uncle Tom” in support of this racial slur. I asked him to correct the record. He has not, so I must do it myself.

I grew up seeing store signs in the nearby town of Cutbank that read “No dogs or Indians allowed.” Our Indian families who live on reservations continue to feel the sting of racism. I could never support the term “redskins” because we know first-hand what racism and ignorance has done to the Blackfeet people. Our people grew up hearing terms like nits, dirty redskins, prairie nigger, savages, heathens, lazy Indians and drunks -- all derogatory terms used to label us. It is better today, but the underlying mentality is still there or obviously people would change the name.

“Redskins” is part of that mentality from colonial times when our people were hunted by soldiers and mercenaries who were paid for the scalps of our men, women and children. How can anyone claim this is a proud tradition to come from?  The labels, racism and hatred that Indian people continue to experience are directly tied to those racial slurs.

Let me be clear: The racial slur “redskins” is not okay with me. It’s never going to be okay with me. It’s inappropriate, damaging and racist.

In the memory of our Blackfeet relatives, it’s time to change the name. That would honor us.

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Ethan's picture
Submitted by Ethan on
It's horrible that you were so entirely misquoted and misrepresented in an article read by millions. It's beyond belief that your son-in-law was the one who did it. Way to speak out and set the message straight! Hopefully this response gets as much or more attention than Rick's original article!

Mikey-sea's picture
Submitted by Mikey-sea on
just get over yourself. it's extremely selfish of you to say just because you don't like something it needs to be changed. it's the name of a football team for Christ sake. relax. no one is out here calling you a redskin, it's not an insult. the term shouldn't be offensive when it isn't used in a demeaning manner. hell I'm white, now I'm not gunna force the government to change the name of a cracker because it's a slur for crackers like myself. stop looking for attention and start living a meaningful life.

Katsenhakeron's picture
Submitted by Katsenhakeron on
Nia:wen for posting this. These voices aren't heard enough today, and with the way this is picking up steam on Twitter, it might finally educate some people for a change.

mekus milkdud's picture
mekus milkdud
Submitted by mekus milkdud on
The sad truth is the washington deadskin organization is giving the native Americans the bird. The deadskin organization is proving how they could care less about race and ethnic relations. WE all know if this were a black or Hispanic group protesting they would have the name changed by tomorrow with a full apology. The reason is blacks and Hispanics have huge numbers and could hurt them in the wallet . But as it is the Washington organization knows very well they can stamp out a small group of native American Indians and they do not have the voice to hurt them with a boycot. Sad how the tribes were wiped off the earth and now have so few voices they dont matter. Again this proves organizations like washington could care less about racial or ethinic issues the only thing that matters to them is money. if you are a true minority like natives or Asians u dont mean squat to them or the civil liberties who only jump when blacks cry. because they threaten boycots. daniel snyder is flexing his muscles and wants to fight the natives and give them the bird because he knows they can not effectively boycott his team. But if it were a black protest he would be so sorry. It is REALLY SAD THIS COUNTRY PRETENDS TO BE RACE SENSITIVE YET PRIDES ITSELF IN A SPORTS NAME OVER THE WISHES OF AN ETHNIC GROUP. THAT says a lot about how our country really sees race and ethnic relations.

Rich's picture
Submitted by Rich on
Breaking news the Washington Football team will change their nickname to Blackfeet to honor the Native American tribe. There is now a huge controversy with the African Americans saying the name is racist toward their culture.

Guyfromhawaii's picture
Submitted by Guyfromhawaii on
Bro. What if they changed their name to the "Washington Blackfeet"? Would you be down with that?

Guyfromhawaii's picture
Submitted by Guyfromhawaii on
Bro. What if they changed their name to the "Washington Blackfeet"? Would you be down with that?

MCNS's picture
Submitted by MCNS on
"''Redskins' is part of that mentality from colonial times when our men, women and children were hunted by soldiers and mercenaries who were paid for the scalps of our men, women and children." That is a untrue, revisionist history. The term Redskins was a self-description, as has been authoritatively shown by Smithsonian scholar Ives Goddard. Moreover, a Blackfoot chief came up with the current logo. According to Redskins historian Mike Richman: "In the early 1970s, Walter "Blackie" Wetzel, president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Blackfoot tribe, urged the Redskins to replace the 'R' logo on their helmets with the head of an Indian chief. From photos he presented to the Redskins of Indian chiefs in full headdress, a composite was developed that gave birth to a new logo on the Redskins helmet in the 1972 season. It exists to this day. "I said 'I'd like to see an Indian on your helmets' Wetzel said in the Washington Post on January 26, 2002. "It made us all so proud to have an Indian on a big-time team. . . . It's only a small group of radicals who oppose those names. Indians are proud of Indians." Worth noting: Indian Country Today Media is owned by Ray Halbritter and the Oneidas who are pushing to change the name.

James L. Outlaw's picture
James L. Outlaw
Submitted by James L. Outlaw on
You freakin rock sir! I support you, it is not much but I do.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
If " REDSKIN " is so demeaning to Native Americans then why would high schools that are on and near reservations with student bodies that are over 80% Native American have chosen the name Redskin as their nickname. In your own words you said he " likely " said dirty redskin which means you don't know what was actually said. This is why this is and should be a non issue. It looks like the only people making it so are ones trying to make a name for themselves as the ones who changed an nfl teams name.

Bo's picture
Submitted by Bo on
Well said. There is no room for argument against any of this. How can a sports team's paltry history and identity deserve more respect than the history and identity of the people they are mocking? To me, that is the message they are sending. Unfortunately, a sports team is in the business of making money and nothing else. Perhaps if they understood that their racist team name actually *costs them money* by alienating, offending, or disgusting hundreds of thousands of potential fans, they would consider the change. Obviously, knowing that it is deeply offensive to an entire people is not enough for them. They've been hearing it for years and years and yet have done nothing.

fred21's picture
Submitted by fred21 on
" if the name offends someone, change it.” -- the name blackfeet offends me -- please change it.

I call BS's picture
I call BS
Submitted by I call BS on
"He likely called them 'dirty redskins.'” Is that a direct quote, or are you just making it up?

chemic's picture
Submitted by chemic on
No offense, but your son needs to lose his job. Why did you let your daughter marry such a tool in the first place?

Ed's picture
Submitted by Ed on
It is sad that a member of such a proud tribe should be misquoted by his family and I am sure he was hurt by that. However, having complained about a miss quote he then goes on to quote Col. Baker and then add a quote of his own. To say someone "likely said" does not help at a time like this. If he is upset at the use of the word fine but, please, don't complain about being miss quoted and then go on to do it yourself it demeans you.

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
Who ever wrote/penned that article ...WAS NOT BOB BURNS/RICK REILLEY'S FATHER IN LAW

Duffy Cavanaugh's picture
Duffy Cavanaugh
Submitted by Duffy Cavanaugh on
May I ask if any names that could honor them and other Native sons could be offered to the Washington franchise? For me - who grew up away from most racial issues of our country, and do not harbor any feelings either way, loved the fact that the team was called the Redskins, because I thought it was more reverent term than Indians. The term Indians is just ignorant in itself, I understand that (Thanks Columbus!) But can there be a name that represents the Native people that can allow them to keep the mascot on the helmet? What's one of the tribes in the Potomac area? What about the Washington Chesapeake's? You know, no matter the outcome of this, die hard fans will always call them the 'skins. I grew up thinking the Skin's Game was Washington football team playing and not Golf. That is until I got to know golf better. I do hope that a resolution can be made in a way that gives unity to the groups than continuing to divide them.

Elaine Sagman's picture
Elaine Sagman
Submitted by Elaine Sagman on
Proud of him for clarifying his statement. Shame his son-in-law abused his right as a journalist...of course, that's nothing new these days. As we quickly jump to defend others who prefer not to be called certain names, we should also defend our Native Americans! They were betrayed and slaughtered by our Government...no less an offense than Afro-Americans feel about slavery. CHANGE THE NAME!

Peter bohn's picture
Peter bohn
Submitted by Peter bohn on
Really really... For something that happened to your people 150 years ago your going to make a nfl widley popular team change its completley non-racist name hell if they do change it i hope they make it more "racist" like who knows cherokee or something because thats soooooo racist.... Why dont you just file a law suit and get your money already jeeZ

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
I'd b e more offended to be called Blackfeet. I'm pretty sure when they named the team they didnt "likely" say, "hey I hate those dirty redskins, we should name our franchise after the people who killed them!" I think people are taking the use of identifying an Indian by the color war paint they used is absurd. You get your respect, auto-correct capitalized Blackfeet for me! Hail to the Redskins!

S Weaver's picture
S Weaver
Submitted by S Weaver on
That is a horrible thing that happened 140 years ago. However, if the name " Redskins" is so demeaning and insulting, then why would a team want it to be their name? Could it be that they see the Native Americans as proud and free and want that to be the spirit of their team? Why should that name be so insulting because some idiot meant it as a derogatory term 140 years ago? Maybe that should be a name for you to be proud of!

David Orange's picture
David Orange
Submitted by David Orange on
Thank you.

Heidi Beck's picture
Heidi Beck
Submitted by Heidi Beck on
excellent! Blackfeet is in my consciousness since there is a young woman who works at a bookstore here in Klamath Falls Oregon who is half Blackfeet, half Navajo! This is southern Oregon, home of the Klamaths. She is very nice, by the way! We've had good conversations.