Photo courtesy likesuccess.com
Last year, the Indian National Finals Rodeo accepted money from the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, but this year they won’t.

Houska: Indian Rodeo Will Not Accept Money From Washington Football Team This Year

Tara Houska
9/8/15

Ojibwe vs. Lakota. Cheyenne vs. Crow. Blackfeet vs. Salish. Indian vs. Indian is not a new phenomenon; it happens on occasion. The controversies of old have turned into the controversies of new – instead of land and territories, Natives now fight for federal recognition, for a bite at the apple of federal funding, for a chance to engage in economic development and provide for their people.

We survived contact, genocide of people and cultures, removal, and litany of abuses that continue today. Surely the most basic level of respect is owed, yet there we are, a noble savage stereotype plastered on sporting goods and ready for purchase in the Halloween aisle at Target.

Comes now Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington football team. Decades of protests hadn’t rocked his boat of racism, but here was the Internet and its ability to elevate Native American voices to levels never heard before. “Change the name!” we wrote, “There is no honor in racism!”

The hashtag #NotYourMascot reached the ears of a billionaire, and almost overnight the Original Americans Foundation [OAF] was born.

Turkey feather headdresses and war whoops are a multi-million dollar industry, playing Indian is a profitable American tradition. “We’re honoring you,” say fans wearing minstrel-era face paint. “We’ve been doing this for 80 years,” they say, while ignoring the reality of Native American eradication.

RELATED: Two High Schools Drop Native American Imagery, But Keep Mascots

When the boy scouts and sports teams were busily appropriating Native cultures and creating the headdress-wearing pan-Indian warrior of today, our great-grandparents were criminalized for practicing those very beliefs Americans found so entertaining.

But I digress. Back to Dan Snyder and his attempt to create division and buy support for racism. His team remains a focal point of the anti-mascot movement, simply because the name is an overt racial slur.

The clamor of Native voices spurred the creation of OAF, an organization dedicated to the age-old tactic of divide and conquer. If OAF could show “some” Native Americans weren’t offended, apparently the continuation of caricaturing a race of people would be justified. Never mind that not one of the 567 federally-recognized tribes have endorsed the Washington football team.

At first, OAF funded half of a backhoe and Washington team jackets. Dan Snyder claimed to have “done [my] homework, unlike some people,” begging the question of whether this NFL owner actually believed that Native Americans had not fought for their people prior to his newfound interest in our communities.

A nationwide campaign was born. Indian country watched as the Paiute Tribe of Utah impeached their chairwoman for taking bribes from the Washington team, as tribal members openly denounced their governments for accepting OAF money.

One such taker was the Indian National Finals Rodeo [INFR], prominently displaying the Redsk*ns logo as a key sponsor last year. Indian country responded accordingly.

INFR’s acceptance of OAF money left an “uneasy feeling” among the organization’s members. The organization is now hoping to reconnect to tribal donors, to meet its budgetary needs without a donation tied to endorsing a racial slur.

Just last week, INFR publicly announced it would forgo sponsorship from OAF. The connection between racism and a payout was recognized, as was the need to distance the organization from OAF affiliation.

Sorry-not-sorry, Mr. Snyder. These noisy Indians are hip to divide-and-conquer. Using poverty against us doesn’t play well; paying off Natives to wear our likeness on the side of a jersey isn’t looked upon highly.

Our ancestors gave their lives to keep our traditions and practices alive for our children, not for Americans to play dress-up. Our cultures aren’t costumes.

If Dan Snyder wants to honor Native Americans, invest in our communities. Support indigenous language programs, food projects, education, suicide prevention, environmental protection, and empowering Native families. Do all of this without the use of a Native American caricature and slur. Until that happens, OAF is nothing more than bribe money.

Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation) is a tribal rights attorney in Washington, D.C., a founding member of NotYourMascots.org, and an all-around rabble rouser. Follow her: @zhaabowekwe.

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