The Washington Redskins – the venerable NFL franchise is now under attack by a liberal blitzkrieg because of a complaint from Ray Halbritter, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation. The complaint stems from the name of the team’s mascot: The Washington Redskins. Originally named the Boston Braves in 1932, the team had to change their name since Boston already had the Boston Braves Baseball team, now in Atlanta.
The Oneida tribe is an honorable and historic Indian community from upstate New York. Once part of the five nation Iroquois Confederation, the Oneida people sided with the Patriots in the American Revolutionary War while their compatriots went with the British. Many of the ancient Oneida chiefs formed friendships with General and future U.S. Senator Philip Schuyler of New York, Lieutenant General and future President of the United States George Washington, and the Marquis de La Fayette. These men recognized the Oneida’s contributions during and after the war. In the late 18th century, U.S. Senator Philip Schuyler declared, “sooner should a mother forget her children” than we should forget you. This emotional tribute provides some insight into the special relationship between the Oneida Nation and the United States.
This is why the present predicament is so sad. The once great Oneida Nation has succumbed to the siren call of Indian gambling through a Class III gambling casino in upstate New York. The Turning Stone Resort and Casino of Verona houses 14 bars and restaurants with numerous gaming rooms – the casino only exists because of the special tax free relationship it has with the American People. This makes Mr. Halbritter’s objections to the Redskins mascot hallow and hypocritical. What could be more stereotypical and damaging to Native Americans than an Indian tribe addicted to a casino where many of its most loyal customers act out their addition to gambling. One trip to their website shows a promotion to win a Tundra truck by the Japanese car company Toyota. Of course in the bed of the truck are two lovely cheerleaders with their upper bodies clad in a sports bra revealing nearly two inches of skin below their belly buttons. What would Pocahontas say?
Mr. Halbritter and the Oneida nation should heed the old English idiom: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”
This present matter with the Redskins controversy has gained considerable force in this Age of Obama, an age where it seems everything sacred and venerable is under attack. President Obama wasted no time weighing in to this mess saying he would “think about changing” the name if he owned the team.
Halbritter recently said the name is degrading and has devastating effects, especially on younger Indians. Yet, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has said he will never change the team’s name and NFL Commissioner Goodell has said that it is ultimately Snyder’s call.
So what is it about the Redskins name that’s driving the current media frenzy? The critics of this name claim it is an undeniable racial pejorative. To the Ubur liberals of the left from Bill Maher and George Clooney to the president and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi the name is a clear racial pejorative, an outrage – but what do American Indians think of the name Redskins for a football team’s mascot? Well, in “…a 2002 poll commissioned by Sports Illustrated (they) found that 75% of those American Indians surveyed had no objection to the Redskins name.” Two years later “(i)n a study performed…by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Native Americans from the 48 continental U.S. states were asked ‘The professional football team in Washington calls itself the Washington Redskins. As a Native American, do you find that name offensive or does it not bother you?’ In response more than ninety percent (90% plus) replied that the name is acceptable…”
“More recent national polls show continued strong support for retaining the name among American Indians although at lower numbers than previous polls.”
It seems reasonable to assume that the rank and file American Indian (1.7% of the U.S. population) does not have a problem with the name the Washington Redskins, rather it appears that only the Native American Civil Rights hierarchy does has a problem.
So to quote William Shakespeare this appears to be “Much Ado About Nothing.” It has become a convenient smoke screen hiding the real problems plaguing the Native American Community in New York State and across the country. Consider some of these issues confronting American Indians today: They have the highest rate of school drop outs (about 54%), along with the highest rate of child mortality, the highest rate of suicide, the highest rate of teenage pregnancy, including the lowest life expectancy (55 years).
Indeed alcoholism remains a staggering problem among the American Indians – in some reservations eight families out of ten have problems with alcoholism. “A survey of death certificates over a four-year period showed that deaths among Indians due to alcohol are about four times as common as in the general US population.” Beals J, Spicer P, Mitchell CM, et al. (October 2003). The poverty rate is 28.4 %, more than 13% higher than the national average.
In addition, Native Americans have had for centuries an issue of cultural vertigo. Consider that American Indians were living in the proverbial Stone Age when Columbus et al arrived in the America’s at the dawn of the 16th century. Armed with ocean going ships, horses, cannons and an educated and sophisticated culture, the indigenous people must have experience a time warp sensation producing cultural g-forces that would have knocked out most tribes. American Indians had no formal educational system at the time, no modern technologies, indeed they were still using the bow and arrow for warfare, a technology in place since 16,000 BC. The Indians of the northeast did not even have the use of the wheel. The cultural shock is still manifest even today after 521 years.
Plenty of colleges and high schools have abandoned Indian names due to a desire to be purged of any guilt, yet this symbolic gesture has done little to truly help the first Americans.
The Irish community in America had a very rough time of it in the mid-nineteenth century regarding social, cultural and religious issues but they did not wallow in their misery. They got to work at becoming Americans and never looked back. The portable jail is still called the Paddy Wagon but it was never a topic of anguish with the Irish, nor do they have a problem with The University of Notre Dame’s motto: “The fighting Irish.” How many of the Boston Irish object to the leprechaun mascot of the Boston Celtics? Today Saint Patrick’s Day is an American holiday, more prominent than in Ireland.
Besides the Irish, the Italians have moved forward to enjoy complete assimilation into the American culture despite the Hollywood stereotype of Italians as ditch-diggers and mobsters. Indeed, the greatest story of assimilation has been the European Jews who escaped persecution in the Old Country only to live in abject poverty in cities like New York and Brooklyn. They did this in order to give their children a better life. And of course the degradation suffered by the Jews of the 20th century during World War II cannot be matched by any racial or ethnic group in American society today. In 2013 Jews enjoy the full embrace of America contributing to the fields of music, medicine, business, and politics. Think about it – can you get any more American than George Gershwin (Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris or Irving Berlin (White Christmas, God Bless America, and Blue Skies). Then there’s Oscar Hammerstein II (Oklahoma, The Sound of Music), and Aaron Copland (1942’s Fanfare for the Common Man, an anthem to the strength of the American nation, along with 1944’s Appalachian Spring, a celebration of the beauty of the first Western border of our country.
We must all remember that not all Indians of the past were warm and fuzzy like Tonto. The scalping death of Jane McCrea was memorialized in a portrait by John Venderlyn – this brutality was not an isolated incident. Many white women were scalped or taken by the Indians of New York for carnal purposes and of course historians have documented the Lakota’s treatment of Custer’s men at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Eyes were gouged-out along with the removal of ears, fingers and genitalia by Crazy Horse and his warriors. Our American soldiers were unrecognizable by their fellow troopers. Brutality was a two way street during the mid-nineteenth century.
Let Quarterback Robert Griffin III and the rest of Washington Redskins play football to the delight of their fans including President Obama and let the national conversation center on consequential things like improving the lives of all Americans including the first Americans.
Geoffrey G. Fisher is a federally designated Highly Qualified state-certified history teacher living in southwest Florida. He holds a BA in History from the University of Connecticut and a MA in Public Policy from Trinity College in Hartford, CT. In addition to teaching he is a former elected official and speechwriter. Mr. Fisher now writes the political blog: THE THINKING CAP at www.theamericanthinkingcap.blogspot.com He is also a weekly columnist for the Political e-Magazine: THE PATRIOTUPDATE.COM