As fans of the Washington D.C. football team walked into the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium on Nov. 23, they passed a gathering of at least 300 Native activists and allies who waved “Change the Name” signs, drummed, sang, danced against Indian mascots and team names that demean and dehumanize them.
“I am not a protester. I’m here to demonstrate my human rights to not be stereotyped,” Corine Fairbanks of the American Indian Movement’s Santa Barbara chapter, told ICTMN. “Many people who’ve stood up against the mascots have been attacked. We shouldn’t have to face hate crimes and discrimination for demanding respect.”
The “Change the Name: No Honor in Racism” rally was organized by several grassroots Native organizations, including the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, Idle No More San Francisco Bay, Indian People Organizing for Change and the Bay Area Coalition Against Racism in Sports sponsored by AIM-West, to name but a few, who are building a northern California campaign to end the use of the racial slur as Washington’s team name, as well as its cartoon mascot of a Native American.
“[Redskins] refers to the bloody scalps of our people that were turned in for bounties. The gold miners were taught that we were savages, and they would give them money for bringing our scalps,” said William Underbaggag (Oglala Sioux) of the Indigenous Nations Network. “I don’t want my children to be told they’re mascots. There’s no honor in racism.”
The day began with morning prayers at a former Ohlone village and burial ground now known as Ulistac Natural Area, which is located a little more than a mile from the 49ers Levi’s stadium. From there, the demonstrators marched around the stadium, stopping at the nearby Civic Center where they interacted with fans. Native children waved their signs and yelled “We’re Not Your Mascot!” at Washington fans, while others yelled “racism looks good at you” and handed out informational pamphlets and stickers to fans who showed an interest in learning more.
For many California tribal members, the 49ers’s name dredges up painful memories of the not-so-distant Gold Rush genocide in Northern California, when many miners rampaged across tribal lands, killing Natives for bounties paid by local governments and driving them from their homes in search for gold.
“I think changing the name, as well as acknowledging the true history of the gold rush, provides the same psychological challenge to people: It’s hard to admit the white-washed history of American exceptionalism [that] we’re taught isn’t the full story,” said California State University Sacramento History Professor Brendan Lindsay, whose recent book “Murder State” delves into the historical records of the Gold Rush genocide.
“For many Americans, all they know are the mascots, the stereotypes. They don’t know anything about our experiences or our actual cultures,” said Jacqueline Keeler, writer and Native activist.“They can’t envision us in any other way, and it affects how laws are made and how the history is taught.”
Correction: ICTMN originally reported that 300 protesters attended the march and rally on November 23, but after speaking with an event organizer, Kris Longoria, that figure rose to at least 500 people who showed up to protest.