Photo by Theresa Fox
Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation, representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of ICTMN, was one of many speakers at the Carlisle Journeys event held from October 7-9.

Ray Halbritter Discusses Native Imagery in Sports at Carlisle Journeys


Operated from 1879 to 1918 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first U.S. government-run off-reservation school for American Indian children. As noted by the Carlisle Journeys website, the school’s “legendary athletic teams and rigorous training programs influenced the complex legacies that used sports as a kind of propaganda tool and at the same time modeled the success of the track and football teams for other off-reservation boarding schools.”

The 2016 Carlisle Journeys: Celebrating the American Indian Sports Legacy conference provided a forum to explore those tensions and achievements of Native American athletes. It was held from October 7 to 9 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation, representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of ICTMN, was one of the many speakers at the event. Below are his remarks:

Shekóli. Greetings.

Thank you for that welcome and for having me here to speak to such an esteemed gathering.

The Cumberland County Historical Society does such a remarkable job of collecting, engaging and sharing stories. That is what we have all come together to do as we celebrate the American Indian sports legacy.

The list of speakers at this year’s event is a remarkable group, and it is such a pleasure to be included among them and to have the opportunity to speak with you today.

I am particularly delighted to be appearing this morning alongside Amanda Blackhorse. I consider it not only a pleasure, but also a distinct honor.

Amanda represents the absolute best that our people have to offer. For years she has been courageous, and absolutely relentless, in her efforts opposing harmful Native American imagery in sports.

Alongside the legendary Suzan Shown Harjo, Amanda and her fellow petitioners have been unafraid to speak truth to power, challenging the federal registrations of the Washington NFL team. And despite the years of work, the lawsuits and the sheer magnitude of the challenge, she remains undaunted and continues to press forward.

Amanda—I commend you for all that you have done, and for all that you will continue to do in the years ahead. Thank you.

The topic that I have been asked to address today—Native American Imagery in Sports—is for me as important as it is personal.

Growing up, I saw firsthand my people mired in years of poverty and despair. I saw men and women fighting with every breath to retain our dignity and self-respect while relying on the assistance of others to get through everyday life.

A tragedy on our Territory—a devastating fire that killed my aunt and uncle—taught me a painful lesson. It was not acceptable to rely on others for our existence. If we were to survive, both as individuals and as a people, we were going to have to do it ourselves through self-sufficiency and exercising our sovereign rights.

I learned the importance of education, of self-reliance, determination and responsibility. If you want to do what is right and protect your way of life and your identity then you need to do it yourself.

Despite the celebrated history and many accomplishments of Native American athletes, some of whom are speaking at this gathering, we continue to face challenges. The world of athletics has often turned Native Americans into cartoons, using our heritage and culture as mascots.

This in turn, shapes public opinion and how Native peoples are perceived in America and around the world. In fact, it even impacts how Native Americans view themselves. The result of this long-term impact on future generations is one of the primary drivers behind the Change the Mascot campaign.

In recent years, our people have gained national attention for our contribution to the campaign asking the National Football League to force the Washington professional football team to stop promoting a dictionary-defined racial slur. We are proud to have founded this Change the Mascot campaign, and we are proud to be one of the groups that have made this campaign such a success.

The road is long, the work is hard and much remains to be done, but our campaign has revealed some truly astonishing signs of progress. In a country that for so long has marginalized and denigrated Native Americans, we have seen sports icons, religious groups, civil rights organizations, governors, state legislators, a majority of the United States Senate and the President of the United States all support the campaign against the R-word.

Changes at the local level exemplify the shift. From Cooperstown to Buffalo, and Hartford, Connecticut to Colorado, communities that have for decades been using derogatory Native American mascots have moved to end that tradition in the name of equality, civility and respect.

In that local upsurge, we are hearing echoes of the early civil rights movement. That movement was a grassroots upsurge that started at local school boards and state legislatures before it built enough momentum for national change. Through it all, the forces of intolerance and the status quo sat in Washington, D.C. and resisted the march of progress until the very end.


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