Navajo Nation Officially Joins Fight Against Redskins Mascot

By: Gale Courey Toensing

The Navajo Nation Council has adopted a bill opposing the use of the name  redskins, a term that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of  Indigenous Peoples has called a “hurtful reminder. . .of the long history of  mistreatment of Native American people in the United States.”

The Navajo Nation Council voted 9-2 on Thursday, April 10 on a bill called  “Opposing the Use of Disparaging References to Native People in Professional  Sports Franchises” introduced by Councilman Joshua Lavar Butler in March.

RELATED: Navajo Council Member Introduces Anti-Redskins Bill

“It was not easy but we finally got approval by the council and the Navajo  Nation has finally joined the rest of Indian country in this fight,” Butler told  ICTMN on Friday. “I think the actions of our council clearly show that [members]  recognize the negative impacts such derogatory names cause for our people and  also for Indian country.  As for our people, I think it gives them  confidence in how they approach society and makes them proud to be Navajo  knowing that their central government and their trust council finally took a  position on this controversial topic.”

The council’s statement of opposition also applies to “disparaging  references” to American Indians in other professional sports franchises. But it  does not apply to college or high school mascots. The mascot for at least one  high school on the Navajo Nation is the Redskins.

Butler’s proposal was brought before the council in March, but it was tabled,  because there were obstacles, including a generational challenge, he said. “The  older generation may be desensitized to the negative impact of the racial slur.  We did a lot of educating and answering their questions and so forth. It was a  grassroots effort that helped us, as well – young people voicing their concerns  to the council,” Butler said.

A lot of support came from young urban Navajo citizens living off the  reservation, Butler said. “These are young Navajos working, going to school,  being professionals – I received a lot of praise from that sector. They really  applauded this effort and are very happy,” he said.

The Navajo Nation is believed to be the first Original Nation to formally  adopt a resolution opposing the offensive name. Butler said his staff had  researched the issue, working with the Nation’s Washington office and could find  no tribal council acting on it, only national organizations or individual  advocates. He recommends that other nations follow the Navajo council model.  “I’ve offered the Navajo Nation’s approved resolution as a template to present  before their councils and get a stamp of approval from their governments as  well,” Butler said.

By coincidence, on Friday — the day after the Navajo council vote — U.N.  Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya called on Dan  Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins Football team, to consider that the term “redskins” is a “hurtful reminder” of the historic  mistreatment of Native Americans in the U.S.

“While I am aware that there are some divergent views on this issue,” Anaya  said, “I urge the team owners to consider that the term ‘redskin’ for many is  inextricably linked to a history of suffering and dispossession, and that it is  understood to be a pejorative and disparaging term that fails to respect and  honor the historical and cultural legacy of the Native Americans in the US.”

Anaya reported  in 2012 (read PDF report here) that “the use of stereotypes obscures  understanding of the reality of Native Americans today and instead help to keep  alive racially discriminatory attitudes.” He said many stereotypes in the U.S.  still portray Native Americans as relics of the past, perpetuated by the use of  Indian names by professional and other high-profile sports teams, caricatures in  the popular media and even mainstream education on history and social  studies.

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their  cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately  reflected in education and public information,” Anaya said, quoting the UN  Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (read PDF of Declaration here).

The Special Rapporteur’s comments drew applause from the Oneida Indian Nation and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). Anaya’s  statement comes on the heels of Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray  Halbritter’s January meeting with the UN on the topic, according to a joint  media release issued Friday. (ICTMN is an enterprise of the Oneida Indian  Nation.)

“The United Nations is the latest to dispel the absurd claim by Washington’s  football team and its owner Dan Snyder that the term ‘redskins’ honors Native  Americans,”  Halbritter and NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata said in the  joint statement.  “This word is widely recognized throughout the globe as a  racial slur. If the NFL wants to be a global brand that contributes to the  positive image of the United States across the world, it needs to stop promoting  this slur and change the name.”

NCAI is the nation’s oldest, largest and most representative American Indian  and Alaska Native organization in the country, serving both federally recognized  and “unrecognized” tribal governments and communities.  It has played a key  role in opposing the Washington team’s continued use of the R-word racial  epithet.

Anaya’s statement is the latest expression of opposition against the  offensive “redskins” name and mascot of the Washington football team. Since last  fall when the Oneida Nation launched the nationwide Change the Mascot campaign to end the use of the racial  slur,  the derogatory name has become a prominent civil and human rights  issue garnering support from top leaders across the country and internationally.  Bi-partisan Members of Congress, city councils, leading civil rights  organizations, top sports icons, prominent journalists and even President Obama  have all spoken out against the team’s continued use of the harmful epithet.

The growing Change the Mascot movement continues to gain support from top  leaders and organizations. Following a nationwide radio campaign during the past  NFL season, Change the Mascot plans to continue its push into the 2014 NFL  season and beyond.