What’s In a Name?

Posted by on June 19, 2014 1:40 am
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Categories: The Nation

November is National American Indian Hertitage Month

November is National American Indian Hertitage Month

The Washington Redskins have had their trademark revoked. Ironically, this isn’t the first time this has happened, in 1999 the same procedure went through and was overturned years later. However, Senator Harry Reid, seemingly forgetting this, has said “The writing is on the wall, on the wall in giant, blinking neon lights,” in reference to the need to change the name.

There is a lot of hype around this story, how about some history. The term redskin, comes from bounty-hunters who would bring back natives to collect their bounty, the native’s skin coated red in blood. One argument against the name change is that it has slipped into common vernacular, like the slang term “gypped,” which is a derogatory term basically meaning “to be ripped off, like a gypsy rips you off.” Very few people are consciously being derogatory when saying “gypped.” That said, gypsy’s in America either do not take offense to the term, or have not spoken out about it. Racial issues with Native’s are not as well known as racial issues with African Americans, so think of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben for some perspective.

A common argument in support of teams like the Redskins, the Chiefs, the Indians, and the Braves, is that the names honor the native peoples, much like Fighting Irish honors the Irish. Right? In this case, the Fighting Irish schools were founded by, wait for it, the Irish. Naturally, the Irish named their mascot after themselves, taking pride in their culture. However, the Washington Redskins, or any of the other teams I named, were not founded by native peoples.

What is most interesting about the current battle over the Redskins is that people in government, like Sen. Harry Reid and to some extent President Obama, position themselves on the side of being politically correct by speaking out against the name, without actually doing anything about it. There are numerous problems on reservations across the country.

Since reservations are semi-autonomous, over the past century, laws have become an intertwined mess. Some crimes go unpunished because no one can prosecute due to jurisdictional lines. People charged with a crime (e.g. DUI) may have to travel hundreds of miles to get to court, shirking responsibilities to make a long journey to court. Perhaps senators could propose funding to establish video conferencing for court cases where the defendant is an unreasonable distance from the court house. This system is already in place in many cities and states to allow inmates to “tune” into court when they cannot be taken to the courtroom.

President Obama has done better than Sen. Reid by visiting Indian country recently, only the third president to do so in 80 years according to Al Jazeera America. However, the Sioux reservation the President visited is concerned about the Keystone XL pipeline, which has plans to pass through their territory; a violation of the treaty with the Sioux. The UN has issued a report that, due to violations of treaties over the past 250 years, the black hills (the home of Mt. Rushmore) should be returned to the native peoples that hold that land sacred.

Perhaps, instead of joining in the crusade against a team name, senators and congressmen can use this hot topic as a launching point to initiate reforms to jurisdictional rights in reservations, provide incentives for business to build on reservations, and many other issues currently facing the Indian Nations. Regardless of how the fight over the Redskins name ends, the government has an opportunity to engage the US public on issues with reservations while they have the US public’s attention.

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Also, Al Jazeera America has a great resource that covers what they call, Indian Country. It features stories about Indians from Canada and Mexico, but most on the US.