Oneida Indian Nation Will Spend Season Protesting Redskins Team Name

Advocates of keeping the Washington team’s name have often pointed to a lack of Native American opposition. That argument might soon be off the table.

Ronald Martinez / Getty

When the most recent round of controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name began this summer, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the name in a letter to Congress. He wrote that the word “redskin” in its NFL context denoted “strength, courage, pride, and respect,” an interpretation, he said, shared by “Americans generally, including Native Americans.”

Goodell pointed to the supporting remarks of Stephen Dobson, a D.C.-area Inuit “chief” who’d said on a team-sponsored TV appearance that “redskin” was a “term of endearment,” and that “when we were on the reservation, we’d call each other — ‘Hey, what’s up, redskin?’.” Deadspin subsequently revealed that Dodson is not a chief in any traditional sense of the word and that the franchise’s characterization of him as “a full-blooded American Inuit chief originally from the Aleutian Tribes of Alaska” was highly suspect for several reasons. Now the broader notion of Goodell’s defense — that Native Americans generally don’t mind the name — is under attack on NFL opening day, with New York’s Oneida tribe announcing an anti-“Redskins” campaign that they plan to continue all season.

The first strike, the AP reports, will be a radio ad running in Washington next Monday, when the team plays its first game of the season. The ad will refer to “redskin” as “a racial slur” and call on Goodell to denounce the name in the same way he condemned Eagles wide receiver for using the n-word during an incident caught on tape this summer. The tribe has also launched a website and Twitter account associated with their campaign; the site urges fans to tweet using the hashtag #changethemascot and, in a clever move that has no doubt already triggered some consternation in the offices of the league’s broadcast partners, provides a printable anti-“Redskin” poster for activism-minded fans to sneak into games.

While public sentiment is by all measures still on the NFL’s side of the issue — the most recent poll found only 11% of Americans believed the name should be changed — the lack of widespread or organized Indian opposition has always been one of the key talking points for defenders of the status quo. A Native American organization with resources to pursue a concerted activist effort — the Oneida tribe is represented by a Harvard Law grad named Ray Halbritter and, yes, operates a casino — could be a game-changer for a league that likes its games just the way they are.

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