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The ‘R’ word has no place in a country of equals

REUTERS/USA Today Sports
Juan Mancias with the tribe Carrizo in the Nation of Texas protest Washington's football team name outside AT&T Stadium prior to a Dallas-Washington game there.

No indigenous child, indeed no child, should grow up in a world where professional sports and media persist in using discriminatory names and mascots.

Clyde Bellecourt

The battle for equality, and against prejudice, requires eternal vigilance for the long list of people subject to the bite of institutional discrimination – women, religious minorities, people of color, indigenous people, immigrants, seniors, GLBT people, poor people, people with physical and behavioral differences ….

We, the 200,000-plus indigenous people of this region, and 300-plus million worldwide, are victims of illegal discrimination on the basis of race, creed, religion, color, national origin and institutional racism. While many indigenous people choose to live their lives with pride and independence from the negative influences of institutional racism, it remains necessary to assert our equal rights as citizens of the United States through education, political action and legal action.

The name for the Washington, D.C., football team is a racial slur, an illegal form of hate speech and discrimination, that damages a protected class of people by denying us respect and equality: in the workplace, at government funded facilities and contractors, at public gatherings, over regulated airwaves, and in corporations producing electronic and print content. The “R” word has no place in a country of equals.

Denigration should not be tolerated

No similar denigrating term for other protected classes of people would be tolerated, and we would not accept any such denigration of anyone. Yet sports organizations, media organizations and many fans have inherited and perpetrated an immunity to the racism embedded in derogatory indigenous sports names and mascots, and the damage they do to the freedom of anyone to live their lives without experiencing prejudice or ridicule.

We do not accept the argument or rationalization that indigenous sports mascots and racist names filled with fan tradition are somehow immune from discrimination laws. We have lived through centuries of desecration and injustice that continue to this day.

All indigenous mascots manufactured for professional and school sports teams by and for nonindigenous people are unwelcome caricatures that do not represent the religion, culture, beliefs and rich history of native people and desecrate our sacred music and dress and elders.

Unwelcome caricatures do damage

Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence from impartial academic research that unwelcome indigenous mascots and stereotypes and caricatures damage indigenous children, damage indigenous futures, and damage the perception of all protected classes.

Our objective is to stop the damage to our children, and to all protected classes by asserting and seeking enforcement of the U.S. Constitution and the many federal, state, county, city and municipal laws explicitly designed to protect us from harm.

We insist that all racist sports names and mascots that appropriate our names and images be changed by the media and by the perpetrators so that they can no longer harm our children, and deny indigenous people and all protected classes of people our civil rights.

We are a beautiful part of the fabric of the United States of America, as are all of our fellow brothers and sisters experiencing systemic injustice.

Appropriated indigenous mascots and names are institutionally racist and contribute to severe hardships faced by many indigenous people. The extent of damage is unimaginable to all but us.

Stop using our sacred culture for amusement

The Washington football team and other teams with indigenous names or mascots are not welcome in the people’s stadiums of Minnesota until they change.

We call upon the Minnesota Vikings, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, our public servants, all Minnesota and national media, all Minnesota corporations, and all people of goodwill to stop using the R word — the word that describes the bloody scalps of our murdered ancestors — stop using our sacred culture for your amusement, and stop hurting our children. Our children have a right to enter and enjoy a sports experience without trauma and degradation.

Clyde Bellecourt, of Minneapolis, is a founder and director of the American Indian Movement and an organizer of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.


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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Michaels on 11/08/2013 - 08:58 am.

    Setting priorities

    Sadly, demonstrating against the traditional nickname of a football team will not provide housing for a homeless Indian child or food for one that is hungry.

    For sure, the compliant establishment media is quick to publicize such grabs for attention. But if concern about a team nickname is the biggest problem facing Minnesota, we have a wonderful state.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/08/2013 - 11:04 am.


      One thing at a time. Saying we should stand by and watch institutionalized racism continue unababted because there are other issues is just another way of deflecting attention from the rot in society.

      Of course, this does take attention away from football. How selfish of them.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/08/2013 - 11:07 am.

      Did anyone say it was the biggest problem?

      Most adults have the ability to be concerned about multiple issues, many of which may be of high importance to them. This is not a zero sum game, and just because people choose to focus their attention on one problem at one point does not preclude their ability to also address other needy issues at other times.

    • Submitted by Walt Cygan on 11/08/2013 - 11:35 am.

      Traditional racism is OK?

      People are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Spending a little thought and effort to eradicating “traditional” racism is a good thing.

      Sadly it’s easy to close ones eyes to hurtful realities in our society, if you are not the person being hurt.

      The Washington football team’s owners could see this as a way to right a wrong, and they could make some money by selling new apparel. It could be a win all the way around, but instead they cling to “tradition”.

    • Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/08/2013 - 01:43 pm.

      traditional but racist and insulting nickname

      So until all the Native Americans have adequate food and shelter they aren’t entitled to complain about racist and demeaning stereotypes and the patronizing attitudes they foster?

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/08/2013 - 09:25 am.

    The irony that seems to be lost on people

    who work in the grievance industry, is that they claim to want equality while at the same time they embrace their status as members of a protected class. Members of a protected class have zero chance of ever being seen as equal. By anyone, including themselves.

    I hold no ill will towards Clyde Bellecourt. He’s only doing his job. But fair-minded white people should at least be made aware that the vast majority of real Indians, when polled on this issue, are not offended and have no desire for the Washington Redskins to change their name.

    So when you hear kids on the reservation refer to each other and themselves as “skins,” what are you going to do? Tell them White America and their Crow scouts have spoken. You aren’t offended, so they’ll be offended for you.

  3. Submitted by mark wallek on 11/08/2013 - 11:01 am.

    A dose of reality

    A country of equals? Hardly. America has traded on the “equality” label for far too long now. We are not equal. The power establishment does not want equality, cannot function that way. Equality, in rea terms, is not about economics, it is about human congress, a fundemental respect for life that is NOT shared by all, whether due to incapacity or callous unconcern. We are too frightened by the prospects of “peace” and “equality” because they have not existed but as ideals that demand the sort of sacrifice we are unfamiliar with. Racism today is a product of fear, and for americans, an inheritance from the british overlords who themselves have never apologized for being such dirtbags. Progress has been minimal, that much is obvious even as we congratulate ourselves for how far we’ve come. To end racism ultimately we’ll need to blend all the races into one, as fear is not going away, and we are not really challenging our fears as we should. We’re simply managing them. Anything else is too frightening.

  4. Submitted by John Bracken on 11/08/2013 - 11:03 am.

    The “N” word

    It perplexes me that anyone said “let’s call them the Redskins.” That was a few decades ago. How about blacks calling each other the “N” word! Ban any rapper from pulblic facilities if they use the “N” word or if their music is degrading to women. Let’s be consistent.

  5. Submitted by Mac Riddel on 11/08/2013 - 11:39 am.

    Support equal rights first

    Why is this an issue? Aren’t there more important things to fight for? Maybe equal rights for everyone inside the borders of this country for example? I’d be more willing to be sympathetic to the needs of Native Americans once they accept equal rights with the rest of the country. With casinos, paying no taxes, and preferential treatment, they have little to complain about, which is why their grasping at straws here.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 11/09/2013 - 02:56 am.

      The tribes retained rights in negotiated

      contracts with the Federal Government called treaties. And treaties are called out in the constitution as the supreme law of the land.

      You know very little about tribes. They are for the most part not conquered nations, They are governments and for the most part superior to states.

      As for taxes please identify one or two governments that collect taxes from other governments. The state does not tax federal or tribal purchases of good or services. The federal government does not taxes or even lottery “profits” of the lottery – not what they pay to individuals but the revenue retained by the states. As the founding fathers said the power to tax is the power to destroy so sovereign governments don’t tax each other, Tribes ares sovereign with there exterior boundaries and can exercise jurisdiction on all Indians who are on trust land within those boundaries,

      When tribes signed treaties the gave up some property rights but not much else.

      They get preferential treatment like any under represented class. You get white privilege.

      They have lots to complain about and a lot of it is legitimate.

  6. Submitted by Claude Ashe on 11/08/2013 - 02:59 pm.

    Sadder still…

    … is the assumption that two causes can’t be worked on simultaneously —- and also the belief that those who wish to express a deeply felt hurt are merely grabbing for attention.

    BTW, “The Redskins” is not the team’s nickname. It’s the team’s official name, accompanied by a large logo of a Native American man in traditional dress that hasn’t been worn daily for 100+ years. Since you seem to be unacquainted with the specifics of the issue, I’ll add that no team in the NFL is named The Whiteskins, The Yellowskins, The Brownskins, or The Blackskins. Hence, the desire for dialogue.

    Please let us know when the statistics come in proving definitively that the curtailment of civic dialogue causes an uptick in housing and food distribution.

  7. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 11/08/2013 - 03:02 pm.

    The fastest way to get the team to change its name is to make it lose money. Don’t watch its games in the stadium or on TV. Change the station when its games are on the radio. Find out who the sponsors are, and tell the sponsors you won’t buy their products if they sponsor the team’s games. Money talks louder than protesters carrying signs.

  8. Submitted by David Frenkel on 11/08/2013 - 04:43 pm.

    change it

    What do socio-economic issues have to do with a degrading name? Pressure is mounting on the owner of the Washington team to change the name that is not degrading. Most Washington, DC sportswriters refer to the team as just the Washington team. See the light and change the name.

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