The Puzzling Case of Natives Who Favor 'Redskins'

Peter d'Errico

The effort to relegate "redskins" to the wastebasket of historical racism stirs up a backlash from so-called "fans" of the epithet. One backlash aims at the group EONM—Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry.

EONM describes itself as "a grassroots Native led volunteer organization dedicated to eliminating harmful stereotypes in schools and media." They originated the Twitter feed #NotYourMascot. Jennie Stockle (Cherokee and Muskoke Creek), an Indigenous Rights activist on the Executive Committee of EONM, reports  increased attention to their campaign in a combination of social media and in-person actions.

As described in a Tumblr post, one backlash against the campaign to dump "redskins" takes the form of a closed FaceBook group named "Save the Redskins Name." There, one finds what I pointed to in a recent column: The surface issue of the name "redskin" is connected to the deeper issue of anti-Indian colonialism.

The Tumbler post, titled "The Silly Fight to Save a Racial Slur in America," presents a discussion thread from the closed FaceBook group. The discussion provides a window into the persistence of colonialism in the arguments to "save the name." For example, one comment mocks the "fight against racism and colonialism," as follows: "Colonialism? Really? I’m sorry, honey, but you lost that one a long time ago. Do they have calendars on reservations? I wonder if the majority of Native Americans feel racism and colonialism are the biggest issues they deal with on a daily basis?"

The question whether racism and colonialism are "the biggest issues" might be taken as an invitation to discussion, except for the previous statement, "You lost that one." The questioner doesn't say colonialism has ended, but that it was successful. The question about calendars rubs the anti-Indian denigration in further.

Another comment in the discussion seconds the notion that the critique of colonialism results from "lacking calendars on the reservation." That commenter adds, "So many bigger issues to 'debate' this truly does become laughable." The reference to "bigger issues" comes up empty, however, because none are specified and because the quotes around 'debate' indicate the commenter discounts the reality of the debate.

If the campaign against "redskins" were only a debate about a name, it would be superficial. But the name represents the surface of a whole complex of issues, all rooted in anti-Indian colonialism…a colonialism that continues to this day in the form of laws and practices enshrined in "federal Indian law."

Federal Indian law rests on the doctrine of "Christian Discovery," derived from 15th century Papal decrees promoting Christian colonial wars against "heathen and pagan inhabitants" of the "New World." That religious legal doctrine has never been overruled; it continues to be cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  If proof is needed that colonialism still exists, these decisions provide it. The ones who need a calendar are those whose calendars only show the game schedule of the Washington football team.

One comment on another Facebook page, "Save the Washington Redskins," offers an over-the-top defense of the name: "To protect the sanctity of [the] term Redskins and the legacy of the Washington Redskins Franchise." Wow! "Sanctity"?! The dictionary defines that word to mean "holy, sacred, saintly." The anti-Indian religious roots of "Christian Discovery" have flowered into a sacred worship of the "term redskins"!

Not satisfied with the sacred worship of the racial epithet, the commenter also calls to protect the "legacy of the…Franchise." Here we have entered the temple of corporate worship. A football franchise represents one of the most lucrative forms of capital investment. A sports franchise receives tax breaks and subsidies in the form of stadiums and relief from anti-trust laws. A sports franchise that has been deified by its fans—"sanctity"—has achieved the highest form of human allegiance: worship.

The presence in these discussions of fans saying they are Indians who support the term "redskin," or at least are not troubled by it, raises a whole further range of analysis. It reminds me of Black people's struggles against racism, in which some Black voices counseled accommodation with segregation, rather than resistance to it. Booker T. Washington, who was born a slave and lived his whole life in the South, was one such voice.

Booker T. Washington's willingness to accept racial segregation was, however, part of a larger plan to build Black economic strength through education and community organization. It was not a simple affirmation of segregation. It was certainly not a deification of the term "nigger."

Fans who say they are Indians and support the term "redskin" are not in the same league as Booker Washington, unless they also have a plan and a campaign to eliminate anti-Indian racism. Short of that, they are willing pawns in a Whiteman's corporate marketing scheme.

Peter d’Errico graduated from Yale Law School in 1968. He was Staff attorney in Dinebeiina Nahiilna Be Agaditahe Navajo Legal Services, 1968-1970, in Shiprock. He taught Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 1970-2002. He is a consulting attorney on indigenous issues.

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Michael Madrid's picture
From the article: " Fans who say they are Indians and support the term "redskin" are not in the same league as Booker Washington, unless they also have a plan and a campaign to eliminate anti-Indian racism. Short of that, they are willing pawns in a Whiteman's corporate marketing scheme." ______________________________________________________________ You took a LOT of words to simply say, "they're apples!"
Michael Madrid
tmsyr11's picture
"There is another class of coloured people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs — partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do do not want to lose their jobs." Booker T. Washington >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> The writer of the article is just another overdue person who has no business telling indian people what to believe, what to say, how to act. Without indian affairs, the writer would have no career in the real world of the white man.
I am an indian. My parents are indians. My grandparents are indians. And on it goes, forever, to the beginning of time. Substitute "indians" for "natives" or "indigenous peoples of turtle island". That is fine. As is "red people", "reds", "redskins", etc. Various names throughout history we have and continue to use to think of ourselves, when thinking of our shared background as peoples and nations of the great turtle island rather than the more specific details of our individual national citizenship, and in contrast to the identities of the racist white supremacist european settlers that continue to oppress us. I am glad the creator made me a red man, a red person, and not a white person. It is a privilege. I a not in a state of monotheistic delusion. I do not crave genocide, oppression or the enslavement of others. It is good to be a redskin, a red man, a red person, an indian. I am not ignorant. The facts of history remain, regardless of those who seek to change them through tactics such as the "Big Lie", where someone repeats a lie over and over until it becomes accepted as truth. Our ancestors know the truth. I know the truth. Others as well. Some are foolish and believe the lies of the white men, and believe the lies of the traitors who have aligned themselves with the white lies for their own personal advancement. I do feel bad for these people. The red path is a better one. It is more honest and more true. It is more real. As far as football, I have little interest in white man's games.
hesutu....great comment. very well written.
hesutu....great comment. very well written.