In an interview on a Washington D.C. radio show in September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “I know the team name is part of their history and tradition, and that’s something that’s important to the redsk*ns fans. I think what we have to do though is we have to listen. If one person is offended, we have to listen.”
Well, during the Super Bowl this past weekend, there were 18,000 tweets hashtagged #NotYourMascot—many addressed to Goodall himself @nflcommish.
Some of the tweets criticized Goodall’s comments at a press conference the Friday before the Super Bowl for claiming that the term redsk*ns honors Native Americans. However, Goodell refused to answer when asked if he “would call a [Native American] a redskin to his face?” throwing doubt on whether it was an honor or simply a Jim Crow-era artifact a few are unwilling to give up. The latest study of D.C. fans found only 25 percent would be bothered by a name change.
I was one of those thousands tweeting Goodall from across the country. I had come up with the hashtag only the week before as our Facebook group Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry faced a dilemma. Our previous hashtag #Changethename had been taken over by spammers from India (ironic, I know). So here we were a week away from the Super Bowl having to start from scratch with a new hashtag.
When we told Fans For a New Tradition (D.C. fans who support a name change) we were tweeting during the Super Bowl they asked, “Why, the Redsk*ns, aren’t playing in the Super Bowl?” The team hasn’t played in the Super Bowl since 1992, and is said to suffer under the “Harjo Curse” named after Suzan Harjo, a longtime advocate for changing the name. Part of it was simply to keep the pressure on owner Daniel Snyder, but for me, that was not the only reason. I also was inspired by the images showing up in my social media feed of Native people enthusiastically supporting their teams and sharing culture as an expression of support on their own terms.
There were the images of my Pacific Northwest friends and family decked out in green, blue and white Seahawks gear. And then there was the woodcarver who made a dancing Seahawk inspired by his Quinault and Chinook heritage. I even bought my son and his cousin T-shirts from Salish Style, a Native-owned clothing company that makes Seahawk gear with traditional Salish designs. This sharing of their culture contrasted deeply with the taking of culture that the practice of redface represents as done by Redsk*ns fans.
We went back and forth on hashtags #changethemascot, #banRword, among others, but I kept coming back to #NotYourMascot. I liked the way it made it clear that the issue was not just the name itself, but the whole practice of Native mascotry, which includes fans wearing redface and the misuse of our cultures.
As a Dakota, I am particularly offended by the wearing of chicken feather versions of our eagle feather headdresses and I blogged about it here: “Washington Redsk*ns, Indian Mascotry & Owl Man” and here “Why We Still Mourn Wounded Knee.” My ancestor Owl Man had worn his headdress, given to him as a mark of honor by his own people, when he came to the White House in 1867. My family still tells the stories of how he worked to preserve the Dakota people through those terrible times. Our Dakota people did not fight to survive so drunken football fans could honor us by wearing our headdresses to their sporting events and hold up “scalp ‘em” signs as FSU Seminoles fans did at the Rose Bowl.
After we decided on our new hashtag, we kept #NotYourMascot under wraps and shared it only within our social media circles through direct messaging and email. We wanted to make sure it was not co-opted by spammers, too.
On Saturday night at 9pm Eastern we unveiled it to the world. This was the suggestion of Suey Park a social media activist and writer. She had great success with her hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick and trended it to number one nationally earlier this year. Still, even with her help, I was doubtful our hashtag could gain traction during the Super Bowl, with more than 111 million viewers this year.
I was particularly discouraged by a recent poll that indicated more than 90 percent of Americans claim to have never even met a Native American. They may have but just didn’t know it because the Native person they met was not decked out in feathers and buckskin. How could we hope to make an impact on social media, especially if so few Americans were even aware we still exist in the age of Twitter?
Then, half an hour in, Suey Park sent me a screenshot of us trending nationally. I was amazed. We had allies in the Asian American and other people of color communities online. We had like-minded sports fans like the D.C.-based @Fans4NT and @ChangeRacism. We had determined Native people who were tweeting their hearts out to make sure they were heard.
Once again, I didn’t believe we would. When we were strategizing at our Facebook event page “Super Bowl Twitter Storm” when one of our members Sarah Little Redfeather Kalmanson (Ojibwe) mentioned that the Declaration of Independence would be read out loud between 5:30-6pm. We decided to target the moment when the words “merciless Indian savages” was read. This is how Thomas Jefferson described us in this document that declared the United States as a country of its own.
Jonathan Miller of Change the Name Now and I went on a radio show in Oklahoma the half an hour before that time while our host Majick Ravenhawk encouraged her listeners to listen for those words and begin tweeting. We began tweeting during the reading of the Declaration, but never heard the words—they had been edited out. It made me wonder why the NFL does not simply edit out other offensive words like Redsk*ns? After all, the Declaration of Independence is a bit more meaningful than a football team mascot.
And then, once again, #NotYourMascot trended on Sunday during the Super Bowl. #NotYourMascot was tweeted over 18,000 times. Many of our tweets included links to the NCAI Proud to Be ad and helped to double its views to nearly one million on YouTube.
On Monday, Indian Country Today Media Network put together a wonderful article (“Not Your Mascot’ Trends on Twitter Over Super Bowl Weekend) featuring a photographic gallery of 37 #NotYourMascot tweets. What struck me as I scrolled through them was just how diverse they all are. I loved how they reflected our individuality as Native people and yet, we were all saying the same thing: We are #NotYourMascot!
It’s been an incredible honor to do something that gives our people hope and inspires Anishinabe poetry like at Anishinaabewiziwin,“ooooo nokomis/cradled deep and low/anishinaabe super bowl/four billion years old/hiy! hiy!/#NotYourMascot”
I’d like to thank all of the wonderful people who helped make this happen. Suey Park, of course and Jonathan Miller. And Danielle Miller (Dakota) who put together an amazing list of tweets for people to use and Toby Vandlingham (Yurok) who put together meme after meme which he shared with all of us at his Facebook page I Am Not Your Mascot. Also, Apache Skateboards artist Douglas Miles and his amazing tweets combining his art and photography honoring his people, the San Carlos Apache. And so many others at EONM: Maggie Hundley (Muskogee Creek) and Jenny S (Cherokee) and Ethan Keller who always showed up for Google Hangout meetings with great ideas! And many others via Twitter and Facebook. It has been honor to work with all of you!
Social media is a lot like our people. Individuals matter, but it is what we do together that really matters. Will Roger Goodall will respond? Well, even if he doesn’t this time, we will keep up the pressure on him and Redsk*ns owner Dan Snyder. We are already planning our next blitz at Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry. We won’t stop until the Washington DC team finally does #Changethename! There I can use that hashtag because, this isn’t Twitter and you won’t think I’m an Indian spammer trying to sell you real estate (once again, ironic, I know). I am trying to tell you change is possible as long as we work together.
Jacqueline Keeler is Navajo and Yankton Sioux. She is producing 7-Oil-1: Inside the Bakken, a documentary about the oil boom on the Ft. Berthold reservation in North Dakota. She lives in Portland, Oregon.