By Arturo R. García
The National Council of American Indians released “Proud To Be” over Super Bowl weekend, a video adding more faces and names to the increasing call for the National Football League to change the name of the Washington D.C. franchise.
The league’s latest effort to skirt the issue came Friday, when Commissioner Roger Goodell refused to say whether he would call a Native American person a “R*dskin” to their face, instead hiding behind the argument that the name “presented in a way that honors Native Americans,” and saying 90 percent of Native Americans support keeping the name. (Of course, the league also denied evidence of the game’s physical and mental damage to players for years.)
Goodell’s statement is probably taken from 2002 and 2004 surveys conducted by Sports Illustrated and Anneberg. But it runs counter to an October 2013 NCAI study showing 80 percent disapproval of the team’s name in Native communities as far back as in a poll conducted by Indian Country Today.
“Neither the Sports Illustrated or Annenberg poll verified that the people they were talking to actually were Native people,” the study states. “They did not ask any questions that would have made a case that the people being polled were Native. The Indian Country Today poll was among readers who were likely to be informed about Native issues, if not informed Native people.”
The Oneida Indian Nation released a response to Goodell’s remarks on Friday:
It is deeply troubling that with the Super Bowl happening on lands that were once home to Native Americans, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would use the event as a platform to insist that the dictionary-defined R-word racial slur against Native Americans is somehow a sign of honor. Commissioner Goodell represents a $9-billion brand with global reach, yet insists that it is somehow no big deal that his league uses those vast resources to promote this slur. In the process, he conveniently ignores all the social science research showing that the NFL’s promotion of this word has serious cultural and psychological effects on native peoples. Worse, he cites the heritage of the team’s name without mentioning that the name was given to the team by one of America’s most famous segregationists, George Preston Marshall. He also somehow doesn’t mention the heritage of the R-word itself, which was as an epithet screamed at Native Americans as they were forced at gunpoint off their lands. The fact that Mr. Goodell doesn’t seem to know any of this – or is deliberately ignoring it – suggests that for all his claims to be listening, he isn’t listening at all.
While supporting the NCAI’s overall efforts, however, Native Appropriations did point out some problematic aspects of the imagery chosen for the video. Not only were all of the historical figures cited men, she points out, but it relies too heavily on the past for its power:
The whole first minute or so of the clip focuses mostly on powwow images of Native folks in regalia, contrasted with images of reservation poverty, with images of historic figures thrown in as well. Yes, the vast majority of Americans don’t have access to any images of contemporary Native peoples, so the powwow and poverty images are important. But, I really feel like it’s time for us to complicate that narrative. With the historic images, yes, it’s definitely important to recognize the contributions of our leaders in the past–but why do we always have to return to the Edward Curtis photographs and Sitting Bull to make a point about modern Native peoples?
The transcript to the video is presented under the cut.