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