Change the Redskins name
This past Sunday, I stood outside TCF Bank stadium with members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in solidarity with thousands of other Indian and non-Indian allies from across the United States to make one point: The name of the Washington NFL fr...
This past Sunday, I stood outside TCF Bank stadium with members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in solidarity with thousands of other Indian and non-Indian allies from across the United States to make one point: The name of the Washington NFL franchise is racist, and it must change.
First, this rally was not about the Vikings. We love our Vikings, and many of us wore purple and gold underneath our rally tee-shirts. Many stayed for the game, because a victory on our field, in the land of 11 tribal governments and more than 100,000 Indian people, was one more way of telling Washington owner Dan Snyder that the universe is not on his side.
Thousands turned out to rally in opposition to a racist slur that is heard week after week on television broadcasts and in news stories. This word, repeated over and over, perpetuates negative stereotypes of Native Americans and contributes to a pervasive degradation of our culture and heritage. It's a reference to state-issued bounty proclamations for exterminating Indian people and providing the bloody "red skins" as proof of "Indian kill." In 1863, the Winona Daily Republican carried the following notice: "The State reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory. This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth." In the State of Minnesota, this word represents genocide, which is why so many state, university and local leaders tried to prevent it from being used at this game.
As the name of an NFL team, this word has promoted the degradation of our identity through promulgating stereotypes about who we are, as a caricature. When people are oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize - they begin to believe - the racist myths and stereotypes about themselves. They start believing they are not as intelligent, beautiful, capable, good or worthy as people outside their group, and they begin to act as if they are not. They start believing these things when they are children.
The impact of this oppression is real; tribal leaders like myself see it every day. For a state that prides itself on education, Minnesota has the lowest high school graduation rate for Native American students of any state in the nation. Our people have the highest mortality rate across all age groups in the state, including a 177 percent higher death rate from diabetes. Our suicide rate is 65 percent higher than all other ethnic groups.
Internalized oppression is a vicious, generational cycle we struggle against in our tribal communities. This is why we must take a stand against a racist word that has been used across generations on thousands of Minnesota playgrounds to make our children feel shame and self-hate.
There are positive steps being taken in some communities. This summer, Brainerd held a reconciliation event to atone for the murder of two Native Americans in 1872. Cities like Bemidji are adopting street signs in the Ojibwe language. And the city of Minneapolis changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. These are small victories on the way to greater intercultural harmony in Minnesota.
However, there is much more progress to be made, which is why tribal communities stand together in opposing the nickname of the Washington football team. We are incredibly grateful to our many neighbors, allies and friends who stand with us in demanding an end to the perpetuation of racism and stereotypes against all people.
Respect our heritage, our culture and our dignity.
Change the name.
MELANIE BENJAMIN is chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.