By Black Powder | Red Power Media
Last Sunday, more than 100 activists chanted, marched and waved signs on church property about one-third of a mile east of FedEx Field. The demonstrators gathered in a grassy lot on the south side of Arena Drive, a road that thousands of tailgaters used to walk to the stadium for the game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Although the gathering drew less than half the crowd organizers had hoped for, it represented the largest protest of the Washington Redskins name that took place at a home game.
Police had surrounded the area with yellow caution tape, stationing officers on each side. Although confrontations never turned physical, they were frequently heated and profane.
Demonstrators held signs of protest — “NO HONOR IN RACISM,” “CHANGE THE NAME” — and displayed burgundy-and-gold T-shirts adorned with dissent: “RETHINK,” “REPLACE,” “RENAME.”
“We are people,” the crowd chanted. “Not your mascots.”
Most fans heading for the game ignored them. Others shouted back.
“It’s nothing personal,” one fan yelled. “You can’t change history,” said another.
A man with a sticker of an Indian head logo on his cheek said he didn’t understand: “They should be honored.”
“I’m so sorry that your feelings are hurt,” a woman shouted, while smiling. “We all have things to boohoo about.”
Tusweca Mendoza, an 8-year-old protester who lives in Arlington, Va., dared a fan to call him a Redskin. He didn’t.
The event was organized by a coalition of groups that have spoken out against the use of Native American imagery in sports. Organizations like the National Congress of American Indians, The National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media, and Change the Mascot have argued that such mascots dehumanize Native Americans, reducing them to racist stereotypes rather than real people facing real challenges. They say such imagery makes it harder for indigenous people to advocate for themselves, and also has direct effects on the psychological health of Native youth.
Activists have been pushing back against the Washington team name for years now, and some progress seems to have been made in the 2014 season. The largest protest in more than two decades was held in Minnesota in November, before Washington fell to the Minnesota Vikings in one of its 12 losses this year.
Public support for the use of the name has also been diminishing among a number oflarge news outlets, including The Huffington Post, as well as among several TV commentators. In June, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the team’s trademarks, claiming the name is “disparaging to Native Americans.” An appeal is still pending.
Team owner Daniel Snyder has remained insistent that the name isn’t going anywhere. Earlier this year, he created a foundation intended to help indigenous communities, claiming that his team’s mascot wasn’t one of the “genuine” issues facing American Indians. As part of this broader argument, supporters of the team often point to Native Americans who say they aren’t bothered by the name as proof that the controversy is overblown.
But opponents of the team name argue that a lack of consensus among the nation’s 566 federally recognized tribes and millions of Native Americans does nothing to invalidate the objection. For many, the primary problem with organizations like Snyder’s is that they are built on Native stereotypes and mischaracterizations that contribute to a broader environment of disrespect for indigenous people. It’s this damaging attitude that allows many on the other side of the debate to deny Native Americans the simple request to be seen as equals in the eyes of their non-Native peers.
Opponents of the name have been working to take their fight deep into the postseason, even if the team itself has long been out of playoff contention. As Think Progress points out, the National Congress of American Indians and the Change The Mascot campaign have launched a fundraiser to create a new ad against the name. So far, they’ve raised more than $20,000, which will help pay for a digital campaign.
In anticipation of the Super Bowl earlier this year, the NCAI released a powerful 2-minute video called “Proud to Be” that spoke to the legacy of Native Americans and their communities today.
The groups plan to have a new video ready for the upcoming Super Bowl in 2015.