Change the Name or End the Genocide?

To suggest there are many and far more pressing issues facing Native people than being exploited and insulted by sports teams is an obvious understatement. Should the NFL franchise from the capital of one of the world’s superpowers change its name? Of course it should. As should all those high school, college and pro sports teams that appropriate their image of us as though we are a dead part of their history.

Personally, I have a major problem putting this issue out in front of the continued assault on our sovereignty, which continues to promote poverty, suicide, dependency and every other social ill known to man. The irony of the President of the United States suggesting he “would think about changing the name” of the Washington football team seems to be missed by almost everyone. Perhaps he should have “thought” about the 3,000 jobs killed on Native lands with the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking (PACT) Act that he signed into law. Perhaps he should have “thought” about how his Executive Orders calling for consultation and collaboration with Native people are ignored by his departments and agencies as they stretch the interpretation of laws and send their enforcement agents into our lands. Or perhaps he should “think” about at least honoring the minimum standard for Indigenous rights as called out by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

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The “Redskins” should not be a distraction to our life issues. And for people like the Oneida Indian Nation of New York’s Ray Halbritter to make it his centerpiece publicity stunt with statements, such as “We deserve to be treated as we are – Americans” and to actually think this change will “make America better” is the worst example of a self serving attempt to salvage his image from the sellout fraud that most know him to be. I know no Native people in the fight to defend Native sovereignty who would make such sycophantic statements. I am not an American and I am not particularly concerned with making America better while my people struggle everyday from American oppression.

This is not about bad words. It’s about racism, white privilege and the need for the realization for Americans that we are still here. When a rich man like Washington’s NFL team owner Dan Snyder can claim the use of a Native image and a derogatory word as his and his fan’s tradition, this is the definition of white privilege. The suggestion that the “Hail to the Redskins” team song is somehow honoring us isn’t just racist – it is simply a lie. They aren’t “hailing” to us or our history or even our appropriated image. They are hailing Snyder’s team. Snyder should not be forced to change the name; his shame should compel him to do it. In fact, America’s shame should compel the change.

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The problem at the root of all this is the fact that racism is alive and well in the U.S. and Canada. Obama made the point that this discussion is a numbers game when he said, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team…was offending a sizable group of people I’d think about changing it.” So for America’s first black president, size matters. If a sizable group needs to be offended to affect change, let’s be clear – we are talking about non-Native people again. We are not a sizable group – not in DC, not in the Washington metropolitan area and, when compared to the rest of the population, not in this country. Forget about right and wrong, right and left, or even black and white – no one is more marginalized than the original inhabitants of this land. And every day politicians, law makers, law enforcement and judges yield to lobbyists, special interests and rich people like Dan Snyder to continue the forced assimilation and further marginalization of Native people.

Yeah, the name should change but don’t any of you dare check a box and say, “there, this one is for the ‘Indians.’” If anyone thinks throwing us a bone by changing the “Redskins” name solves anything for us then your delusional racism is safely intact.

I, for one, hope to point to the name of the U.S. capitol’s multibillion dollar sports team for years to come as the perfect metaphor for the racist dominant culture – not just with their continued use of our misappropriated images but with everything else that serves to demean us – this land’s first peoples.

John Karhiio Kane, Mohawk, a national commentator on Native American issues, hosts “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane,” ESPN-AM 1520 in Buffalo, Sundays, 9-11 p.m. He is a frequent guest on WGRZ-TV’s (NBC/Buffalo) “2 Sides” and “The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter” in Albany. John’s “Native Pride” blog can be found at He also has a very active “Let’s Talk Native…with John Kane” group page on Facebook

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