Cheroenhaka Chief supports Redskins name

Published 12:01 pm Friday, March 4, 2016

With the Washington Redskins scheduled to play in London’s Wembley Stadium this season, two members of British Parliament last month sent a “strongly worded letter” to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging him to “send a different team to our country to represent the sport, one that does not promote a racial slur.” In response, Mark “Yellowhorse” Beasley of the Navajo Nation wrote a letter to Goodell, accusing the members of parliament of hypocrisy and a lack of knowledge concerning the origin of the Redskins’ name.

“[Ruth] Smeeth and [Ian] Austin need to comprehend that our ‘red’ concepts are powerful and meaningful within our society and have been passed on for generations,” Beasley said. “They should know that many of our continent’s native nations self-describe as Red-skinned, Red People, or Red Painted People, including members of the Apache, Choctaw, Houma, Beothuk and Red Fire, just to name a few.”

The letter also pointed out that Smeeth and Austin seemingly have no issue with European sports teams named after indigenous people.

“These MPs [members of parliament] have been silent for years as professional rugby teams with indigenous-based names such as Zwarte Duivels, Diablos Rojos, the Amazonsor Os Tupis, routinely come to England. Moreover, [they] must realize that London has its very own professional Redskins team which, amazingly, was founded in the very same year as Washington D.C.’s team.”

Several Native American tribes have endorsed Beasley’s letter, including Cheroenhaka (Nottoway) Indian Chief Walt “Red Hawk” Brown, who expressed the need to preserve their Native history for future generations.

“A lot of people don’t know the history behind the name or how the team was established,” Brown said. “The first coach was Native American and the logo was created by the Blackfoot Indian tribe.”

When the city of Boston was awarded an NFL franchise, the football team initially took the same name as its stadium co-tenant, Major League Baseball’s Boston Braves. When the team moved to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, its owners changed the name to the Redskins. Many believe owner George Preston Marshall renamed the team after its coach, William Henry “Lone Star” Dietz of the Sioux Indian Tribe, but — contrary to Brown’s statement — Marshall was quoted by the Boston Globe in 1933 stating that he wanted to avoid any confusion with the Braves while still keeping the Native American connotations.

“He didn’t want to give his former landlord the satisfaction of retaining their nickname, but his team’s uniforms were imprinted with Indian insignia,” the article said. “Marshall solved the problem with a practicality and shrewdness that would become his trademark. He dubbed his team the ‘Redskins,’ a name he kept when he moved his roadshow from Boston to Washington four years later.”

The team’s logo, which features the profile of a Native American with two feathers hanging from his hair, was created in 1972 by Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, a former Blackfoot tribal chairman and president of the National Congress of American Indians. It is modeled after the likeness of the Buffalo nickel.

“I have voiced my opinion on this matter several times,” Brown said. “It’s not a racial slur. It radiates the history of our people. It’s a part of our history, and that’s why I’m a part of the Native American Guardians Association — to keep the name alive.”