If I were fortunate enough to be of Native American descent, many things would make me angry toward the white man.
Here’s just a few:
• I’d be infuriated by the fact that European settlers took over my homelands and systematically eradicated much of our culture;
• I would bristle over acts by the federal government in violating treaty after treaty, after being promised we could live in certain sections of the country without interference. For example, when the Black Hills were recognized as belonging to Native Americans, only to be flooded by hordes of interlopers after gold was discovered there;
• Just as troubling would be the U.S. cavalry attacks on villages filled with innocent women, children and tribal elders who were unable to fight back;
• The Trail of Tears of the 1830s also likely would lead to a few drops rolling down my face in 2013 as I recalled the forced removal of Cherokees and others from areas of the Southeast, which led to 4,000 deaths among that tribe alone. The really disturbing part of this was President Andrew Jackson’s defiance of an earlier Supreme Court decision in Native Americans’ favor which should have allowed them to stay;
• It would be tragic, as well as irritating, that other attempts were made by the whites to wipe out my people through acts such as distributing blankets infected with smallpox among the tribes (whenever they weren’t killing off the buffalo, that is);
• Lastly, I would be angered by the banishment of the few remaining Indians to reservations where unemployment and social problems such as alcoholism historically have run rampant.
Yet, given the magnitude of all those atrocities, one thing I would NOT be bothered by is the existence of a professional football team which happens to be known as the Washington Redskins.
Every so often, there is an outcry for the Redskins to change their name because it supposedly is hurtful to the Native American community, with another such call surfacing lately. Baseball clubs including the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians have been targeted in the same manner.
College teams have not been spared from this, either, leading universities such as the Marquette Warriors, St. John’s Redmen, William and Mary Indians and others to adopt new names.
As you probably can tell from my photograph, I do not appear to have any Native-American blood running through my veins, but not from lack of searching. I had long heard that such a heritage was a part of my family tree, but years of genealogy research dating to the early 1700s regrettably has turned up no such link.
I am proud to say, however, that I have been a Washington Redskins fan for many years.
During that time, I’ve never thought of the team as outwardly trying to offend anyone through its name, colors or use of Indian logos. And I’m sure that the Redskins’ ownership did not have this in mind when forming the team in 1932.
If I were naming a sports organization, I certainly would want it to be one people could admire. In that vein, it can be argued that the selection of Redskins was an attempt to honor, rather than condemn, the Native American heritage. Had the Washington football team been designated as the “Skinheads,” “Wetbacks” or some other inflammatory name, then critics’ attacks might have some validity.
In my view, the Redskins brand should be no more disagreeable to Native Americans than the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers is to farmers.
The latest attempt to get the Redskins to change their name is coming after years of relative obscurity for the team while it was mired in a series of losing seasons. Now that it seems to be on the upswing, bolstered by the emergence of quarterback Robert Griffin III, aka RG3, it is interesting that the controversy has resurfaced — with even Washington Mayor Vincent C. Gray among the Redskins’ critics.
But here again, when you look at the big picture, what would it really mean to the Native American community if the Redskins became the Washington Cliffdwellers or Washington Sequesterers, to name just two appropriate alternatives? There might be some small moral victory attached to this, but the change would do nothing of a tangible manner to erase the generations of injustices heaped upon Native Americans.
I mean, here is a people who’ve been driven from their land, murdered and disenfranchised in many other ways, and there are those among us who think renaming the Redskins somehow will make a big difference. Believing it would is just representative of the stupid thinking that is apparent in our society at times.
If the Redskins-haters really want to do something meaningful for Native Americans, why not give back the territories we stole from them. Turning over whole Western states such as Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas would be a good start.
Otherwise, contemporary white people who are not willing to offer such compensation should just shut up about the empty gestures — and that goes double for Dallas Cowboys fans!
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.