It didn’t take long after The Washington Post published a report claiming 9 out of 10 Native Americans do not find the name of the Washington NFL team offensive before prominent Native American leaders and activists began calling it “flawed” and “irresponsible.”
On Thursday, the Post said they polled 504 “ordinary Indians” throughout the U.S. and Washington, D.C., and found that “more than 7 in 10 said they did not feel the word ‘Redskin’ was disrespectful to Indians. An even higher number — 8 in 10 — said they would not be offended if a non-native called them that name.”
But Native Americans say the study is flawed for primarily two reasons: First, that it does not take into account the empirical research that found words like “redskin” and “savage” harm the mental health of Native American youths; and secondly, that more than half — 56-percent — of the respondents self-identify as Native American.
Self-identification can include people whose evidence of indigenous parentage is based on rumors or family lore (think Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s claim that she is Native American) or those who are not Native American, but claim to be Native American anyway (think Rachel Dolezal identifying herself as black, though she is incontrovertibly white).
“The self-identification standard is flawed in so many ways,” activist and Native American leader Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, told ICTMN. “The article cherry picks people to highlight, framing them as representative of the ’90-percent.’ When someone claims to be ‘part-fill in the Native nation,’ it may or may not be true. It may or may not be the same as having an informed opinion. It doesn’t mean anything about the citizenship of a Native nation or the membership of a Native organization. A Native person might be part-French or part-Irish, but it does not mean that [they are] representative of the position of France or Ireland, or a substantial composite of the French or Irish.”
Harjo, who won a case against the Washington NFL team in 1999, though the verdict was later overturned, went on to critize the article, calling it “irresponsible” and that it “crosses the line between reporting and editorializing.”
“The Post is substituting its ill-informed judgment for the lifelong experience and sound judgment of actual Native peoples who are in positions of trust and who reflect the will of Native people they represent,” she said.
Other leaders highlight the fact that the name of the team is defined by the dictionary as “disparaging” and “offensive,” and that regardless of The Washington Post‘s report, such language has been proven to harm the self-esteem of Native American youths.
“Social science research and first-hand experience has told us that this kind of denigration has both visible and unseen consequences for Native Americans in this country,” wrote leaders of Change the Mascot Ray Halbritter, representative of the Oneida Nation, and Jackie Pata, national director of the National Congress of American Indians, in a joint statement on Thursday.
But such data hasn’t swayed the opinion of Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder.
“The Washington Redskins team, our fans and community have always believed our name represents honor, respect and pride,” Snyder said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “Today’s Washington Post polling shows Native Americans agree. We are gratified by this overwhelming support from the Native American community, and the team will proudly carry the Redskins name.”
This fall, the Washington NFL team is scheduled to play the Cincinnati Bengals in London, England, but Members of Parliament there have written NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell encouraging the league to change the team’s name or send another given that Wembley Stadium has a list of regulations banning all forms of racist behavior.
“In Britain there has been a concerted effort to remove racism from our national sport, football, with grassroots campaigns such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card working hard to ensure equality and respect both on and off the pitch,” the letter reads. “We were shocked to learn of the derivation of the term ‘Redskin’, pertaining as it does to the historic abuse of native Americans, including the production of a piece of flesh as proof of kill by bounty hunters.”
At the time of publication of this story, Goodell has not responded to the letter.