Clear data: Native people are 'deeply insulted' by NFL team name

Critics of the Washington NFL franchise head towards State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, to demand a name change by the Washington franchise. The Phoenix Cardinals hosted Washington in September 2018. Protesters met supporters of the team, some wearing fake headdresses. (Photos by Taté Walker)

Dalton Walker

'The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence Native people'

A new academic study debunks previous surveys saying Native people support offensive mascot imagery, including the NFL’s Washington franchise.

Fifty-seven percent who identify as Native American surveyed took offense at the Washington team and 67 percent of those who frequently engage in tribal cultural practices said they were “deeply insulted by caricatures of Native American culture,” according to a University of California, Berkeley news release. Young people, participants “engaged in their Native or tribal cultures” and federally-recognized tribal citizens tended to agree more that the team is offensive.

The study was launched last fall by UC Berkeley Assistant Professor of Psychology Arianne Eason and University of Michigan Psychologist Stephanie Fryberg after a controversial 2019 web-based survey by The Washington Post that claimed to have found 68 percent of 500 self-identified Native Americans were not offended by Washington’s mascot.

The study will be published this month in the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science. University of Michigan faculty Laura Brady, Nadia Jessop and Julisa Lopez co-authored the study.

“We keep seeing clear examples of Native people speaking up and protesting these problematic team names and mascots,” Eason said in the news release. “Yet, public opinion polls, with little methodological transparency, say that Native people are not offended. Things just don’t add up.”

The new study also cited the Post’s 2016 telephone survey that found nine in 10 Native Americans claimed not to be bothered by the moniker. That study surveyed 504 self-identified Native Americans.

Stephanie A. Fryberg, Tulalip, is a William and Ruth Gerberding University Professor of Psychology and American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)
Stephanie A. Fryberg, Tulalip, is a William and Ruth Gerberding University Professor of Psychology and American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

“The data from previous opinion polls is often used to silence Native people,” Fryberg said in the news release. “But our study, which captures a broad diversity of Native peoples and experiences, shows high rates of opposition. As researchers and consumers of information, we need to be very careful about whose voices we claim to be representing.” Fryberg is a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington.

The new study recruited more than 1,000 self-identified adult Native Americans representing 50 states and 148 tribes. Participants varied in age, gender, education, political ideology and socio-economic status, according to the news release. The study was based on a scale of 1 to 7 where participants were asked to agree or disagree with a selection of statements. Some sample questions included, “I think the term ‘redskin’ is respectful to Native Americans” and “When sports fans chant the tomahawk chop, it bothers me.”

(Previous Story: Super Bowl’s chops, chants and cringes)

Diné activist Amanda Blackhorse, a longtime advocate for change of Washington’s mascot, said mascot polls are inhumane and there is no place for polling of human rights issues in Native communities. She said the Post survey and coverage was “very, very harmful to our people.”

“This issue isn’t about if all Native Americans agree, we don’t all think the same, we don’t have the same experiences, but what we do know is that there’s a lot of Native people out here who have been damaged by Native mascots and those are the people of concern,” she said.

Blackhorse said the only way to make things right is for the NFL franchise to get rid of the name completely.

“What we see that anything Native, any team, that’s when stereotypes come out,” she said. “People really love it, the fandom around mascot imagery, people are obsessed with playing Indian.”

The results of the study comes only days after another NFL franchise known for its stereotypical Native imagery, Kansas City, won the Super Bowl. A tweet by the team’s official Twitter account a day before the Super Bowl shows a 16-second video of fans doing the controversial chop in Miami. The tweet had more than 11,000 likes and nearly 1,500 retweets. Native Twitter took issue with the tweet and didn’t hold back in letting the NFL team know about it. Nevertheless, the tweet remains published.

The nonprofit IllumiNative is working to change the false mascot narrative about Native Americans.The nonprofit had pushed a social media campaign against the Kansas City team and its controversial chant and mockery.

Multiple Native American organizations have come out against Native mascot imagery, including the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Journalists Association.

In 2014, the National Congress of American Indians posted a two-minute video on YouTube that champions Indian Country and its many heros. Towards the end, the narrator says “Native Americans call themselves many things, the one thing they don’t.” before fading to a helmet of the Washington NFL team. The video has more than 5 million views.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker or email him at dwalker@indiancountrytoday.com

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