Writes Dallas Goldtooth on a Facebook post. “At this time…it was “Redskin” that was used to describe us.”
To the left of Goldtooth’s words, a newspaper clipping from 1863 advertises a reward, “The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”
“The ‘Redskins’ they were talking about were my ancestors,” Goldtooth said during a phone interview. “Here in front of me was the evidence.”
Goldtooth, Dakota, from Minnesota, explained that the newspaper clipping was published after the U.S. Dakota Wars of 1862. His ancestors, the Dakota people, had just lost the war and were banished from the state. If they were found still “illegally” residing there after the war, bounty hunters targeted them. The “County ticket” that Goldtooth posted was a reminder of the past.
“The reason a lot of Dakota fled was because of that newspaper clipping,” Goldtooth said.
Goldtooth said that he first learned about this Dakota history and the word “Redskin” growing up in Minnesota. But reliving that history in the midst of the Washington NFL team’s name-change debate really struck him. “It’s a perfect visual description and tie to the past usage of the word and how people perceived Native people,” Goldtooth said. “It has a very personal attachment.”
A personal attachment that the NFL team’s owner, Dan Snyder, doesn’t seem to understand. Snyder’s letter to his season-ticket holders last month spelled out his reason for not changing the team’s name. He said, "Our franchise has a great history, tradition and legacy representing our proud alumni and literally tens of millions of loyal fans worldwide… We are proud of our team and the passion of our loyal fans. Our fans sing 'Hail to the Redskins' in celebration at every Redskins game. They speak proudly of 'Redskins Nation' in honor of a sports team they love."
“He brought up the language, ‘legacy,’” Goldtooth said of Snyder. “That’s true, but that word has a much longer legacy. That word was attached to bounty’s; is that what you want?” Despite Snyder’s letter, Goldtooth said he’s optimistic that the team will eventually change its name; but he said it would take time.
He said his post attracted two different audiences. People who did not understand how the name “Redskins” was offensive to Native Americans—saying that the name’s just the name of a football team.
For example, Felisha Suggs, who commented on the posting said, “Wow.. you should be honored to have a "Redskin" mascot! Mascot is a good thing! It shows you're tough.. people against this are going way overboard.. it has nothing to do with race! I would love to be named a mascot!”
Goldtooth said that the other group was “of our own Native people who don’t think it’s important enough to address [the Redskins name-change debate].” Many wrote that the Native community should focus on other more important issues like, health care, poverty, and giving tribes more control over their communities. Goldtooth argued, “We can multi-task.”
“Very good thoughts, Dallas. My hope is that truly we work through our ‘multi-faceted beast’ with a multi-faceted approach, because it's starting to look like our people get mostly active protesting how we look in pop culture,” Ishmael Angaluuk Hope wrote. “While the goal to become positively depicted in pop culture is a good one, if it's our major effort, our work is shaped by how other people see us. Gunalchéesh.”
Goldtooth said that he was most surprised to receive comments from Natives who were unaware of the “Redskin” bounty history. “Wow. Never knew that. Thanks for teaching me something new. ‘Taikuu.’ Thank you in Inupiaq language,” one comment said.
Goldtooth’s also heard stories that were allegedly told by unnamed elders: “'There’s a story from the elders about a town that is really racist and the elders said, ‘let them be.’” He said their argument is that the past is the past and you can’t change it. “But when it’s something ongoing," Goldtooth said, "It’s happening today, you have to address it."
Alex Paul’s comment on Goldtooth's post proves that people’s minds can be changed if there is a discussion. “As a white man, I just thought it was just a name (somewhat racist, but that team came out a long time ago). Now I understand where it came from, and I agree it should be changed, but it should also be remembered so we know not to use it again.”