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American Indian festival fertile ground for opinions on Redskins name

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Participants at the The 5th Annual American Indian Festival at Patuxent Park weigh in on Redskins name, Courtesy Tauren Dyson

Participants at the The 5th Annual American Indian Festival at Patuxent Park weigh in on Redskins name, Courtesy Tauren Dyson

Published on: Monday, October 21, 2013

By Tauren Dyson, Special to The Sentinel

American Indian festival fertile ground for opinions on Redskins name

By Tauren Dyson

Special to the Sentinel


The 5th Annual American Indian Festival took place at Patuxent Park in Upper Marlboro, Md. on Oct. 19. As the sound of bird bone whistles and the smell of incense swirled throughout the air, so did talk about a local controversy: Whether or not owner Dan Snyder change his team’s name. 

“I believe Redskins, in this context, is not just a name, it’s an offense to the Native American culture,” said Brandywine resident Gail Moore, who attended the festival with her granddaughter.

The 59-year-old Brandywine resident said her awareness of American Indian culture grew during her two-year stint as the program manager for the American Indian/Alaska Native Special Emphasis federal program. Moore, who is African American, said the insensitivity behind the name “Redskins” compares with racial slurs used to disparage other ethnic groups.

“How would you like it if the name of the team was the little black Sambos?” Moore questioned.

Still, many think that commentary on the issue from non-native people has muffled the opinions of actual American Indians. Recently, two D.C. area radio stations refused to air a commercial produced by the Oneida Indian Nation calling on the Snyder to change the team’s name. Such a charge has led Oneida to conduct a poll, which showed that 59 percent of people in the D.C. region said the American Indians have the right to be offended by the name “Redskins”.

But whether the name is actually offensive remains somewhat muddled for many Native and non-Native people. In fact, even some American Indians don’t consider the name “Redskins” offensive. Throughout Patuxent Park, opinions about the name swung wildly from person to person.

Lisa Thomas, a Waldorf resident and Piscataway Canoy American Indian, said she came to the festival to display her variety of traditional finger woven garments. And as deep as her pride runs for her Indian heritage, so does her admiration for the name “Redskins”.

“To me it’s an honor … so I don’t find any controversy with it at all,” Thomas said. “I don’t have a problem with my skin color … it doesn’t bother me personally.”

According to an Annenberg Policy Center poll, other American Indian community share Thomas’ sentiments. The poll conducted in 2004 found that 90 percent of people who identified as “Native American” were not bothered by the name “Redskins”.

Still, other American Indians on hand at the festival thought the numbers from the poll could be specious.

“I guarantee that [poll] is not true,” said Margo Williams, whose American Indian heritage pulls from the Cheraw, Saponi and Seminole tribes. “Ninety percent of the people they talked to, maybe, but not 90 percent of all people.”

Today the conversation about changing the “Redskins” name has outgrown the D.C. region, even NBC broadcaster Bob Costas called for Snyder to change the name during a mid-October national broadcast of the Redskins/Cowboys game. But 20 years ago, the issue struggled to gain traction even locally. Williams, 66, recalls her days of protesting the team name back in the ‘90s.

“It was ugly then … people were abusive and angry we were out there [at RFK Stadium],” Williams said. “We did not have a lot of support in those days, from any corner.”


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