Appearing on a panel at a conference aimed at changing the name of Washington’s professional football team, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) slammed Washington owner Daniel Snyder and the National Football League for continuing to “exploit and profit from the racial slur ‘Redskins.’”
“There are more than five million Native Americans in the United States. They are our neighbors and friends — children, elders, moms and dads, men and women who care about their culture, their communities, and their country,” McCollum, the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, said. “Americans whose identities are in part defined by race, ethnicity, and religion should never be stereotyped in a degrading, dehumanizing, or demeaning manner. Native Americans are not mascots or caricatures to be exploited for profit.”
McCollum, who has co-sponsored a bill to ban the trademarking of the word “Redskins” and other racist epithets, was among the guests at a conference held in Washington, D.C. by the Oneida Indian Nation as part of their “Change the Mascot” campaign, which occurred just one day before the NFL owners are scheduled to meet in the same hotel.
The congresswoman was joined by D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton — a staunch civil rights advocate — as well as Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and Mr. Michael Friedman, a clinical psychologist involved in the study and treatment of adults with mental and physical health issues. Ray Halbritter, a representative of the Oneida Indian Nation, led the panel.
When asked about the significance of holding the panel in the same Georgetown hotel in which the NFL owners will meet on Tuesday, Halbritter said that this move was intended so that “people in America will start to understand how important this issue is and that change will come. These are not the ideals we want for our children.” No NFL representatives sat on the panel, though the Oneida Representative said a letter had been sent to the league, and the NFL had responded with some interest in meeting to with the Oneida Nation’s campaign to discuss the issue.
The event took place in the wake of President Obama’s assertion that he would “think about changing” the nickname if he were the Redskins owner, a stance that Halbritter praised while thanking the president for “waking up the nation.” The panel also thanked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — who previously defended the nickname — for saying a month ago that the league must listen to those who are offended by the name.
Friedman, who has 20 years of experience in studying and treating psychological issues, insisted that the use of the mascot is a public health issue. Friedman noted that the continued use of a word roundly condemned as offensive is an example of “textbook harassment,” while citing that Native Americans are already twice as likely to suffer from depression and alcoholism, and have one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
Halbritter, who identified himself as a fan of the team — but not the nickname — declared that “it is hypocritical to say you are America’s pastime but not live up to its ideals.”
The Oneida Nation, an NFL sponsor, has previously run radio advertisements against the name, and its members in Wisconsin held a small protest outside Lambeau Field when Washington visited the Green Bay Packers earlier this season.
Christopher Butterfield is an intern for ThinkProgress.