Honor or hatred?

Up to now I have waged a passive protest against racist sports imagery, most notably the Washington DC NFL team, whose name I refuse to acknowledge. I’ve never been shy about talking about it to anyone who will listen, but I’ve never taken an active role. My personal boycott of this team means that I skip over pages of the newspaper that talk about them, I flip past TV stations showing their games and I refuse to speak their name, calling them the Washington Racists or R-words. But ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. It’s time to speak up. I will be passive no longer.

Mind you, my ire extends to all use of racial imagery in sports, not just this one team, though it is perhaps one of the most egregious examples. I despise equally the “tomahawk chop” of baseball and the grinning-idiot “Chief Wahoo”. It is long past time for these caricatures to end.

Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington NFL team, claims the name represents “honor and respect.” He stands by a long-debunked claim that the team’s first coach, William Dietz, was an “Indian athlete.” Dietz, who falsely claimed Sioux heritage, was investigated and tried by the FBI for dodging the World War One draft by claiming to be a non-citizen Indian. Long before the term became known as identity theft, Dietz stole the identity of a Lakota man from Pine Ridge named James One Star. So the “honor” that Snyder points to belongs to that of a draft-dodging identify thief of German ancestry.

But the Dietz issue is a diversionary tactic. It’s a red herring. It doesn’t matter what Dietz’ ancestry was, because it still in no way justifies using racist imagery to promote a modern sports team that makes Dan Snyder millions of dollars. Snyder’s other tactic is to trot out real-life honest to goodness Native Americans that he has bought and sold with his millions of dollars (made largely by exploiting their heritage) to claim that they are not in the least bit offended by the team’s name. For good measure he occasionally throws some money toward Indian Country as a show of goodwill. So children on the Lower Brule Reservation can now grow up playing on the Redskins Playground, graciously funded by Dan Snyder. Never mind that the suicide rate among Native American children on reservations is up to 10 times the national average, in part because of the lingering trauma of centuries of genocide and being called things like the r-word as a way of making them less than human.

Divide and conquer is not a new strategy. The government used Indians to kill other Indians for centuries by exploiting old rivalries, by offering money, and by simply offering no other choice for survival. You either joined them or died fighting against them. Snyder has learned from the US Government that you can cause continual chaos in Indian Country by dividing the people and pitting them against themselves.

In 1864, General Sully waged a campaign against the Lakota/Dakota (called Sioux by the government, but not by themselves) of the upper Missouri River. My great-great grandmother’s brother (let’s just call him a distant uncle), signed up as an Indian Scout for General Sully, serving with a company of Winnebago and Omaha scouts from Nebraska.  Gen. Sully relied on Native scouts to hunt down and kill other Natives. My sincere apologies to my Lakota friends, but my ancestor killed or helped kill your ancestors.

I mention the Gen. Sully Campaign of 1864 because I have read numerous accounts of the battles due to my distant uncle’s participation. The r-word is used consistently by Sully and others to refer to their enemies, and never in a way that is consistent with Snyder’s claims of “honor and respect.”  Such as this example  “…so that we may finish up the war and the most of these troublesome redskins at one blow.” Or this example that talks about how the US Army decapitated their Lakota enemies and impaled the heads on poles to serve as an example to the other “red-devils” that the Army meant business (did ISIS learn this technique from American history?). It is clear throughout history that the term redskin was used to dehumanize the enemy. You were either a civilized white man, an allied Indian, or a sub-human savage redskin. I can find no single example in history of redskin being used in an honorable and respectful way.

I have friends and family who are of the Miami Confederacy, the Cherokee Nation, the Six Nations of the Iroquois, the Wyandot,  the Pottawatomie, the Lakota, the Crow Nation, the Shoshone-Arapahoe and others, and I would not stand face to face with any one of them and call him or her a redskin. I strongly suspect that Dan Snyder wouldn’t have the guts to do so, either.

Dan Snyder, while you make ludicrous claims about honor and respect and heritage, Indian people know that redskin represents the exact opposite. It represents centuries of genocide, murder and untold atrocities. It evokes memories of Indian heads on pikes, of villages burned, and of babies with their skulls bashed in, because as General Sully told his troops as a way of justifying the murder of women and children, “nits make lice.” Study your history, Dan, and shame on you. To hell with your honor and respect, to hell with you, and to hell with your shitty football team.

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