Ramsey: Many Native Americans despise revolting Washington Redskins nickname

October 24, 2013 Updated: October 24, 2013 at 4:45 pm
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As the Washington Redskins prepare to invade our state, I want to make one truth clear:

Throngs of Native Americans are offended by the very idea of a football team calling itself the Redskins. I realize many clueless Americans are convinced the Redskins moniker somehow honors Native Americans. Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck fondly looked back at singing "Hail to the Redskins" along with tens of thousands of other fans.

"I remember nothing but honor," Hasselbeck said Oct. 14.

Michele Companion, a member of the Mohawk Nation and the local Native American community, does not feel honored. She laughed when she considered Hasselbeck's words.

"She's another apologist for a racist system she doesn't understand," Companion said.

"I find the Redskins nickname degrading. I find all the nicknames racist, hurtful, offensive. . The fact that we're still treated like cartoon characters is not a small issue. It's a reflection of how so many people in society actually see us."

Companion, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, realizes several polls claim a majority of Native Americans support the nicknames. Those polls baffle her.

"I've yet to meet any person who self-identified to me as Native American who has come out and said, 'Oh, yeah, I think we should have the Redskins, the Chiefs and the Braves.' I've never met a Native American who supports Native American nicknames," Companion said.

But Daniel Snyder, owner of the Redskins, is an ardent supporter of the nicknames. Snyder is mega-rich. He's also mega-defiant.

"We'll never change the name," Snyder told USA Today earlier this year. "It's that simple. NEVER. You can use caps."

Oh, Danny Boy, I wouldn't be so certain.

In 2006, I wrote a column saying the University of North Dakota needed to dump its Fighting Sioux moniker. Soon, a tidal wave of e-mails crashed into my life with supporters of the moniker delivering a unanimous message:

The Fighting Sioux nickname is forever, they wrote, and you and everyone else who opposes the moniker will just have to live with it.

I knew better. I knew the Fighting Sioux moniker was doomed. I knew North Dakota would follow Stanford and Dartmouth and St. John's and Syracuse University (my alma mater) and CSU-Pueblo and many others in dumping antique, insensitive Native American monikers.

Turns out, I was right. North Dakota waved goodbye to the Fighting Sioux moniker in 2012.

Snyder can huff and puff all he wants, but the Redskins will join the Fighting Sioux and fade into yesterday, too. Maybe not in the next few months, and maybe even not in this decade, but the moniker will be discarded. St. John's changed from the Redmen to the Red Storm. CSU-Pueblo traded Indians for ThunderWolves. Washington will move from the Redskins to a new name. The truth keeps marching on.

Sebrena Forrest, a Colorado Springs resident, serves as a native elder and storyteller for the Mohawk Nation. She opposes the Redskins moniker, but makes clear she is more concerned with what she calls "larger humanitarian issues" on Native American reservations.

"The poor nutrition, the high suicide rate, the hopelessness," she said.

Still, Forrest wishes Snyder would do what leaders at Palmer High School, her alma mater, once did. For decades, Palmer's mascot was an eagle-beaked Native American.

"Kind of goofy-looking thing," Forrest said.

Wisdom and kindness prevailed at Palmer, and it was discarded.

Forrest expects more monikers to depart. She takes a gentle, forgiving, hopeful view toward those who cling to Native American mascots.

"People can't know what they don't know," Forrest said. "If people are ignorant it's because they don't know what they've never been taught. It's out of their realm of life."

But wait. Here's where hope arrives. Forrest believes millions of her fellow Americans will join her in opposing Native American monikers and mascots when ignorance is discarded.

"If they know it is offensive to somebody, if they've been told, if they know that they've said something and referred to somebody and that it's offensive, wouldn't they want to say, 'We're sorry and we're not going to do that anymore?'"

Wouldn't they?


Twitter: @davidramz

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