I know there is very little time in this offseason of the NFL to talk about anything but Brett Favre's utterly predictable and yet surprising comeback, except maybe Travis Henry's utterly predictable and yet surprising testing positive for marijuana! (GASP! Travis Henry gets high when he doesn't have a job! Just like everyone else!).
But there was a rather major news story that flitted right by, unless you happen to Google Search for Indian News.
The Washington Redskins won another battle with Native Americans, in a lawsuit that has been going on for over sixteen years. Sixteen years! The technicality was that the youngest person in the lawsuit had waited too long to be offended. Which seems crazy, but there it is. You have to be offended within a set amount of time. You can't turn 18, do stupid shit for a few years, and then read up on your own history and then realize what the fuck it means to have a team called the Redskins exist in America. You have to be offended right away.
I've written on this topic over and over again. There were the Red-Faced fans in Cleveland, who showed up the same weekend that Vernon Bellecourt died. I've written this screed for the past two years.
Last year, I wrote:
Look, I'm not talking about Indians, or Braves, or the Fighting [Fill in the Blank]. I'm talking about Redskins. It is the most offensive nickname in sports, and if we just shake our heads and do nothing, than we are a bit guilty in allowing this name to continue.
Two years ago, I wrote:
I've known a few Native Americans, and they have never discussed how it became somewhat cool to refer to each other as "redskin". It's too hateful to reclaim, and too basic. It isn't some word of uncertain origin. It's origin is right there in the name. Just as Asian baseball players won't ever happily claim the nickname "The Yellow Peril". Indians, Chiefs, etc, are bad enough. But Redskin is on another level. There simply isn't a metaphor than can do the Awfulness of it All justice. The Washington Dirt-Eating Savages might be more respectful.
So as I write the stuff I'm going to write, you'll notice, possibly that I'm going out of my way to not use the Washington's football squad official nickname. I love the team, I love the way Jack Kent Cooke ran it, and I love a lot of the players. I hate, and I'm embarassed not just by the name, but the fact this country allows it to exist. The reason it exists, of course, is that Native Americans are so marginalized, and were so effectively cleansed back in the day (from 1470-1970) that even when they show up to protest the most hateful public name in sports, they could only muster a handful of protesters. Not that many Native Americans living on the East Coast these days. For some reason, they all live in the deserts of Utah, Arizona and Oklahoma.
I happen to live in the Cities that have the highest population of urban Native Americans in the country. I have visited the Little Earth neighborhood in Minneapolis, where the average yearly salary was, as of 2005, $8000 a year. 8K/year. So when people ask, "Don't Native Americans have bigger problems than what some football team is named in DC?" they are right to ask it.
But let's get some answers from Suzan Shown Harjo, as ripped from an ESPN Q&A that no one ever reported on the ESPN networks.
We dig her straightforward, no bullshit answers:
Kevin S.: Why did you sue the Redskins and not the Braves?
Suzan Shown Harjo: Because the r-word is the most derogatory thing Native Peoples can be called in the English language.
Harry: Don't you think that this is a pretty petty thing to be nagging about? Aren't there bigger issues out there in the world today than name-calling?
Suzan Shown Harjo: Most of the people who ask that question don't do anything about our big issues. The Native American parties to our lawsuit are the ones who are doing something about the big issues, and this is one of them, because it is contextual, atmospheric -- it affects federal Indian law because, for one thing, policymakers don't make good policy for cartoons or for people who are used for others' sport.
Skins fan: I have a lot of sympathy for the injustices your people have faced. I have a family member who is a Native American that was adopted. But I also feel that the nicknames of teams such as the Braves, Seminoles, and even the Redskins were meant to honor your people and not to disgrace them.
Suzan Shown Harjo: Even if that were the case (and I respectfully disagree with that view), they are not considered honorifics today by the vast majority of Native Americans. And, even if it were the case that one team meant well by it, it still would be the job of the other side to mock the image, name, traits of their opponents. The very nature of the context makes it preferable to just make the change and move on. My guess is that the Republic will still stand.
Perfectly said. The Republic will still stand, and Native Americans won't be forced to see their traditions treated as cartoons. We dig Suzan Shown Harjo! And we hope the Court System will finally find some balls, and relegate delete the Trademark of the Washington Redskin. Of all the people that term should belong to, Daniel Snyder ain't at the Top of the List.
Harjo had an editorial that didn't get published in The Washington Post or the Washington Times or anywhere else, but the Nativepeoples.com.
Read her. Know that not every single Native American agrees with her, but that if a large minority of Native Americana weren't worried about running water (the Navajo Nation doesn't have it!) or alcohol or gambling (a mixed blessing if ever there were one) they might agree with her.
Washington Redskins would be less offensive, as we have said, if they changed their name to Washigton Drunken Savages. And Harjo wants to know--what have you done for the original immigrants to this country?
If they change their name to the Washington Rednecks, they can keep the same color jersey, and just replace the native American on their helmet with a can of beer and a stock car driven by Jeff Foxworthy.
Total change to the Washington SE Jeromes.
Also, I had no idea there was a statute of limitations on when one could be offended. So, let me get this straight, if I'm now offended by something, if it existed when I was 18 I can not take legal action. EIther what offends me must be brand spanking new, or I needed to sue about it when I turned 18? So, if I make a bunch of mickey mouse t-shirts, and then wait 8 years to sell them I can't be sued right? Take that Disney!
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