by Madelyn Walker
This summer I spent 10 weeks in Washington, D.C., working at the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of the American Indian. My time in D.C. was transformational; I learned a lot about myself and Indian Country. I would encourage everyone to accept an adventure, move somewhere without knowing anyone and live on your own in an unfamiliar city.
While working at the museum, I tried to keep up-to-date on current issues facing Indian Country. One that really sparked my interest was the Redskins naming controversy. Prior to working at NMAI, I never thought or felt offended by the name of the NFL team, but my opinion has drastically changed.
When discussing the term Redskins outside the context of sports, you have a racial slur. If you were to walk on a reservation or into a room of Native Americans and start throwing the term Redskins around, you would not like the reaction. It is comparable to the N-word. The difference with the word Redskin is that it is not used in rap songs and Natives do not use it in our greetings to one another. Personally, I have never heard it being used by a Native in reference to another Native; we do not use it because it is offensive.
I think the problem stems from the fact that people believe Native Americans and our traditions are a way of the past. This is a misconception that sweeps our nation, our textbooks and our education on Native cultures. Each tribe is different and has held to their traditions differently. It is important to know that Native Americans are not just casinos, feathers and dream catchers. We are a culturally rich group of people that have practices and beliefs dating prior to European contact. Natives have resisted assimilation, in many cases successfully. Even when assimilation had to occur ,tradition and pride was not always lost; that is a beautiful thing.
I have family who are also Native and also die-hard Redskins fans. They see no problem with the NFL team name. However, I cannot stand behind a name of a team so historically deep-rooted in bigotry. Team names like the Chiefs or the Braves do not offend me. This is because the word Chief was never used on a wide scale as a term to dehumanize a group of people.
I do not think that everyone who likes the Redskins, works for them or plays for them is a racist. That would be irrational. I think that Indian Country is making huge steps in defining who they are in America. I think renaming the NFL team would bring hope to the nation by showing that Natives are here, have always been here and will continue to be here–—practicing our way of life, seeking respect for our contributions to society as a whole.