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Local Indian leaders oppose ‘Redskins’ name as AIM leads protest in Minneapolis

American Indians and their supporters gather outside the Metrodome to protest the Washington Redskins' name, prior to an NFL football game between the team and the Minnesota Vikings, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

BEMIDJI — As the American Indian Movement demonstrated Thursday evening in downtown Minneapolis against the Washington Redskins’ nickname and logo, Bemidji area tribal voices joined the chorus calling it offensive.

American Indians prominent in local government and academia oppose the name, with at least one leader saying they’d personally attend the protest.

Robert Durant, secretary/treasurer of the White Earth Nation, decried the name Thursday afternoon, moments before he left for the Twin Cities to join in the protest, which took place before the Minnesota Vikings-Washington NFL game at the Metrodome.

"It is very disrespectful to the native people," Durant said. "It perpetuates and fuels disrespectful and degrading thoughts to and from the people of the United States, and possibly throughout the world."

Durant said Thursday’s protest would foster awareness of the struggle of American Indians.

"I think Minnesota is taking a commendable lead in making this understood, because we are not alone in this," he said.

Dr. Anton Treuer, director of the American Indian Resource Center at Bemidji State University, was in favor of changing the Redskins’ name.

"I think we do need to do away with the Redskins as a mascot," he said in an email. "Political correctness can get out (o)f hand and we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves and not take everything too seriously, but a lot of unnecessary damage gets done on this one."

Far from honoring American Indians, Treuer said, symbols such as the Redskins create an environment where the opposite happens.

Treuer recalled the racially charged atmosphere of a men’s hockey game between the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the University of North Dakota, which went by the nickname of Fighting Sioux for more than 70 years before dropping the name.

"Fans were chanting ‘smallpox blankets’ and ‘slay the squaws’," he said. "Is that honoring Native Americans? Should I be expected to feel completely honored and comfortable taking my kids to public spaces where their neighbors hurl racial epithets in the name of sport?"

People condemn caricatures of other races, Treuer said, but not when it comes to American Indians.

"Somehow Americans don’t tolerate Little Black Sambo or white guys dressed in hokey Afros with watermelon shirts but often think nothing of or actively defend Chief Wahoo (the Cleveland Indians mascot) or mascots like the Redskins," he said. "Let’s stick with lions, tigers and bears, no humans are offended by that."

Nicole Buckanaga, chair of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe’s Local Indian Council in Bemidji, also feels the Redskins’ name and logo are offensive.

"We’re… ignored on many levels, but when it comes to representing how strong a team is, (we’re)…exploited," she said.

If non-Indians attempt to reach out to Indian communities, Buckanaga said, they should do so in a more constructive and appropriate way.

The Bemidji leaders and the protestors in Minneapolis are not alone in taking issue with the name.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the name was racist after being asked about it in a press conference Thursday. He suggested members of Congress should boycott the team. Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak said in a statement that the name disrespects indigenous people. Six members of the Minneapolis City Council had also recently sent a letter to Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calling the nickname and team mascot racist.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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