The fight to change the name of the Washington, D.C., professional football team gets much of the attention when discussing Native issues in the United States today.
That battle, although not concluded, is basically won. One day — perhaps even within five years — the NFL team will not be called the Redskins, considered a racial slur by most sensible people.
Consider two recent events. The Navajo Nation Council, one of the country’s largest tribes, voted earlier this month to oppose the use of the Washington Redskins name. The resolution applies to mascots at the professional level, leaving the issue of high school sports alone.
Then, last weekend, the Notah Begay III Foundation pulled its support from a golf tournament in Arizona — despite its proceeds going to Native scholarships — when the foundation learned that Redskins’ team owner Dan Snyder’s foundation was the title sponsor. Snyder has set up a nonprofit to benefit Indian causes. His Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation is basically a way to appease critics of the Redskins name. Begay, a four-time PGA Tour winner and golf analyst, calls the team name “a very clear example of institutional degradation.” He wouldn’t lend his name to help make Snyder more acceptable.
Just as Americans have learned why the term Redskins is offensive, they should begin to understand why cultural appropriation of Native images can be damaging. From the scantily clad women wearing headdresses at the Coachella music festival in California to the runway models dressed as faux Indians, such appropriation is degrading. That headdresses — sacred symbols, honors that must be earned — are worn casually as a fashion choice, must be challenged. It’s wrong, plain and simple. No singer or actor would dress in blackface to perform today. Someday, no performer, no drunken hipster and no children at birthday parties, will wear pretend headdresses. They will no longer have to be told that such appropriation is insulting.
However, that day is in the future. For greater understanding, there will be a Native Appropriations Panel Discussion presented by New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts, the Indian Bar Association and the Indian Law Section of the New Mexico Bar Association from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at Evoke Contemporary. The discussion is part of Art Matters/Curated, sponsored by the Santa Fe Gallery Association from April 17-26. Or read Native Appropriations comments on Facebook or the Beyond Buckskin fashion blog. Both will help increase people’s understanding of why the appropriation of Indian cultural symbols needs to go the way of Aunt Jemima.
For now, be ready to say goodbye to the name Redskins.