Dennis Nett/
Sid Hill (left), tadadaho of the Six Nations, and Tony Gonyea, an Onondaga artist, prepare for the return of some ancestral heirlooms in 2012, at the Cayuga Museum of History and Art. Gonyea crafted a new wampum belt, that was offered as a gesture of appreciation.

Spiritual Leader Sid Hill Agrees That It's Time to Change 'Redskins'

Sean Kirst |

This article is republished courtesy

Sid Hill took the call a few months ago. It was a representative of the Washington Redskins football club, asking for Hill's take on the national furor over whether the team's nickname should be changed.

Hill didn't like the tone of the call. "I felt like they were looking for something, that they wanted me to discredit Ray, and I wasn't going to go there," said Hill, referring to Ray Halbritter -- the Oneida Indian Nation leader campaigning for the Washington team to discard the name "Redskins."

The Onondagas, Hill said, face a stack of problems: "We have passport issues, we have tax issues, we have land issues," he said. "I don't think an emblem of a football team is on the top of the list."

If team representatives want to talk about those larger questions, Hill told the caller, they ought to come to Onondaga.

He is tadadaho, or spiritual leader, of the Six Nations. That traditional position goes back to the foundations of the longhouse system of belief. While the Onondagas and Oneidas are ancestral neighbors in Central New York, Hill and others at Onondaga disagree philosophically with Halbritter on many policies, such as whether casino gambling belongs on native land.

Still, Hill is dismayed by the way Halbritter has come under attack during the debate about whether to jettison the Washington nickname. Some supporters of the team have questioned if Halbritter is truly Indian, a strategy Hill finds especially repugnant.

"The backlash Ray's received is kind of scary," Hill said. "It's like they're trying to discredit the witness."

Halbritter once lived at Onondaga, Hill said. Despite their differences, Hill has no doubt about Halbritter's lineage -- and Hill doesn't question his right to raise concerns about Washington's nickname.

Besides, fundamentally, Hill feels the same way.


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