‘The dirt is the color of our skin’: Voices and portraits from the Washington team-name protest

Moments after the photo below was taken of Martina Jesperson and her family protesting the Washington football team’s nickname in front of TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Sunday, a 20-something white man in a Randy Moss Vikings jersey walked by, stagger-stopped in order to survey the group and said, “Yeah, but you catch all our fish for us.”

“Classy,” shot back Jesperson, as if she’d heard a lot worse.

The man was pursued by MinnPost for further comment but when reached he declined, and, like several other annoyed NFL fans who muttered racist comments under their breath and off the record on their way into the game, retreated into the anonymity of the crowd. But before gorging on the Vikings victory on the field, fans were at least grudgingly grazed by the 3,000-strong protest, which organizers hoped would be the largest demonstration against the team nickname to date.

Held on the heels of the first Indigenous People’s Day in Minneapolis,  the march from Northrop Auditorium and rally at TCF Bank Stadium made for a sometimes tense and often inspiring gathering of ideas, expressions, and histories that included drum circles, prayers, dances, and speakers like Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who led the crowd in a chant of “Change the name!” and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, who bellowed, “[Washington owner] Dan Snyder, you’re a rich white guy. What the hell do you know about Indians?!”

More from the protest, in words and photos:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Annie Jesperson, Bill Rusk, Bryan Buckley, Tracy Harjo, John Jesperson, and Martina Jesperson, East Glacier Park, Montana. “I’m a native person and I have a granddaughter on the way and I’m here for her,” said Martina Jesperson. “She doesn’t know it yet but this world is a bad world right now in 2014. But we hope that it’s changing. We really do. We hope the times they are a-changing.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Howard Lathe, Mark Lathe, Robey Lathe, Lindstrom. “I’m from [the state of] Virginia, that’s all Redskins territory up there,” said Howard. “The name was not intended to be a slur. It was intended for the Native Americans as far as pride and the solidarity; they were brave warriors. Over 90 percent of the Native Americans now support the Redskins in the United States. Granted, there’s a minority that’s offended, and if they feel it’s offensive to them, myself I don’t have a problem if they change it. If they had to change it, then change it to something like the Washington Warriors. I don’t have a problem with that.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Joan and Ananae May Capitaine, Cass Lake. “I’m with the Leech Lake tribe. We are a family affected by historical trauma, and that name really hurts us,” said Joan. “Not only is it my family, it’s our people. We have to live with that name out there. How are we supposed to overcome and come back to where we once were if they use this derogatory name? People just don’t know how much it hurts all of us. It’s like a slap in the face to us whenever we see it.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Lindy Friend and Steve Parks, Fort Francis, Ontario. “We’re Canadian Oji-Cree, but in Canada it’s derogatory to be called an ‘Indian’ so we go by ‘First Nation people,’ ” said Friend. “I’ve been a Redskins fan since I was 13, I’m 44 now,” said Parks. “I’m native, myself. She’s native, herself. I don’t think the name is racist at all. It’s nothing. I’m here as a fan. A Redskins fan. A football fan. I’m a fan, I’m not making this a racial thing.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Broderick Dressen, Minneapolis. “No matter the root of the word ‘redskin’ it’s what comes out of the fans and the mascot that creates it to be racist. The people who represent this name are not representing the hundreds of tribes out there. It’s racist.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Ogiichinaa Be’o and Waabanang Be’o, White Earth. “My name means ‘spirit seeker.’ [Indigenous people] in America are so different when it comes to religion and education,” said Ogiichinaa. “There are so many programs that shut down the real truth of who we are, and we’re trying to wake up America with what we’re doing here today, because this earth is our spirituality, so we come here to teach. Did you know that if you were to go up in the air and look at the earth, the dirt is the same color as our skin?” “We need to make our presence known,” said Waabanang, “and let people know that we’re still here. How we live, it isn’t a culture, it isn’t a religion, it’s a way of life. We wake up every morning and pray to our creator because we choose to, not because we have to. We gather here today to stand strong as a people because there are people who forget we’re still here.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Aviv and Daniel Ettedgui, Minneapolis. “There’s a tradition in having the name, but in language, academics meet every year to add new words to the English language, and so things evolve,” said Daniel. “Attitudes evolve, and what may have at one time been acceptable, today is not. There’s a saying: ‘Life and death are in the power of the tongue,’ and I think that’s true. It’s also true that hurtful words impact people in a very deep way. You can’t always see it on the outside, but people carry it with them on a daily basis. I think it’s time they change the name.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Darren Cobenais, Minneapolis. “My tribe is Red Lake. I don’t want to disrespect [Dan Snyder], but the name has to be changed because ‘redskins’ is a term for back in the day when there was a bounty and the white men would kill Native Americans, like ‘I got three red skins today,’ and that would be three Native Americans dead and they had no limitations, either: women, children, elders, babies. ‘Washington Redskins’ is as bad as ‘Minneapolis Niggers’ or ‘New York Spics’ or ‘Wisconsin Crackers’ or something, and they don’t see that.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Kevin Nance, Elsa Erickson, Anton Konieczny, and Nick Greatens, Minneapolis. “We’re with Students for a Democratic Society,” said Greatens. “I believe we should stand against racism as a society and a university. I believe the Washington team name is absolutely racist and needs to go. We need to respect Native American culture instead of appropriating their names.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Ron Dixon, Kansas City, and Tom Hadley, Minneapolis. Dixon: “I’m from Washington, D.C., originally. We’ve been best friends for 37 years. We’re both retired military.” Hadley: “It is very important that they change their name to anything other than ‘Redskins.’ If a group of people is offended – and I am offended by it – why not change it?” Dixon: “This is my best friend, but I disagree with him 100 percent. The Redskins have been named that for 80 years, they obviously did not name them the ‘Redskins’ to be offensive to anybody. It’s a name that honors Native Americans, in my opinion. I’m gonna leave it at this: We can make a word mean whatever we want it to mean. I’m going to use an example of ‘marriage.’ ‘Marriage’ used to mean a union between a man and a woman, but now slowly but surely across our country, it means marrying whoever you want to marry. The meaning has changed. If in fact it was offensive in the past, it was not meant to be offensive. A name can mean whatever you want it to mean.” Hadley: “I’m gonna go buy a scalper’s ticket. I’m not sitting next to you today.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Fancy Ray McCloney, Minneapolis. “I am here in solidarity with Clyde Bellecourt and all the rest. Let’s give the Washington football team the name it deserves, one that includes everybody and expresses love, joy, and happiness. How about ‘The Washington Fancy Rays?’ If we could make that happen, my my my …”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Beth Solle, Minneapolis. “I feel the use of the word ‘redskin’ is just as much of a racial and ethnic slur against a community of people as the word ‘kike’ or ‘nigger’ is, and it should be considered inappropriate in the same way. I am Jewish, and I know that members of my family have been called [‘kike’] and it used to result in lot of fistfights up on the Northside. You feel degraded and you want to defend yourself.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Alex “Anonymous,” Fridley. “I’ve consumed a little bit of alcohol. [The Redskins name] is a tradition. It doesn’t affect me anyway. I’m Lebanese and white. Does it affect you? Are you offended by it? Do you think you have a voice to change an NFL football team? Honestly? Do you have an effectiveness? Did it affect you five years ago? It does now because of the media. How I feel is probably the same questions I’m asking you.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Matt Latterell, Minneapolis. “I actually feel like the gathering of people is really beautiful and it feels really important. My friends are drinking at Stub and Herb’s right now, and I chose to come here just to experience it. Agreeing with the sentiments is obvious. I’ve heard some discouraging things in response to some children dancing that I just thought were ridiculous. The comment was, ‘We can’t have prayer in school, but we can have this, here.’ They also said, ‘Next we’ll have PETA complaining we can’t use animals as mascots.’ You know, that was literally their response to children dancing. Then another guy said, ‘Actually, I’m offended.’ Oh, it’s so hard being a white guy, isn’t it?’ ”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Desiree Ortiz, San Antonio, Texas. “I’m a member of the American Indian Movement, Central Texas chapter. We need to get this name changed. It’s time. No other race would stand for it, and if it was any other name, it would’ve been gone already. But because our voices aren’t heard, this is what we have to do. This is about justice.” 

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by E Gamauf on 11/03/2014 - 09:45 am.

    Out of Sight, Out of Mind

    The team isn’t FORCED to change the name.
    They can keep on their merry way, in the face of protests.

    Yet people who are offended enough to make their sentiments known, are seen as ridiculous & should just shut up & go away? That does not track.

    Some names, “Cleveland Indians” for example – have no inherent negative connotation that I am aware. Or the Chiefs. “The Fighting Sioux” may be in that same category, since some nations do call themselves “Sioux.”

    A lot of people who claim a hint of native blood, may be very far removed from that culture & those who are predominantly

    Let’s get to the one person interviewed’s question:

    WHY did the team get named “Redskins”
    & what was the historical context at the time it was named?

  2. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 11/03/2014 - 05:18 pm.


    Jesse “The Body” has joined the liberal movement of criticizing rich white guys.

  3. Submitted by Dan Bosch on 11/03/2014 - 06:55 pm.


    I’m always amused by the claim, “we are honoring them by using the name.”

    Wouldn’t it be just as honorable to honor their request not to be honored in this way?

  4. Submitted by Crystal Brakke on 11/04/2014 - 10:35 am.

    “Over 90 percent of the Native Americans now support the Redskins in the United States.”

    This stat seemed pretty unbelievable to me, so I did a little digging–it is from a survey in 2004 of 768 people who self-identify as Native.

    Here’s a good (long) read from this April that shows how much/how quickly things have changed, and wonders whether that stat would hold true today: http://mmqb.si.com/2014/04/03/washington-nfl-team-name-debate/

    Being there on Sunday, I feel more strongly than ever that the time has come to change the name.

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