Why use of Native American nicknames is an obvious affront


Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike -- brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us, and one country around us. -- Joseph, Nez Perce chief, during a visit to Washington, D.C., in 1879

We'll never change the name. It's that simple. NEVER -- you can use caps. -- Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington football team, in a USA Today interview, May 10, 2013

Home means a lot in sports. Home field, home court, home ice. Home plate. Homestands and home openers. Batters slug home runs, running backs take it to the house, basketball players slam it home. We do solemnly swear to "Protect This House," in ads and pep talks, on signs and posters.

It's a powerful concept. But it doesn't seem to apply to the 5.2 million people whose ancestors were here first.

As University of Georgia professor Claudio Saunt pointed out in a recent article for Slate, the United States has grabbed more than 1.5 billion acres of homeland from Native Americans. And that's just since 1776, after many of the Eastern tribes already had been forced out by colonists and decimated by Old World diseases.

The Washington football team, for example, plays on land taken by sword from the Piscataway tribe.

Progressive Field, where the Cleveland major leaguers play home games, sits on territory that belonged to the Algonquins. (Some say it's an actual burial ground.)

The past, present and future abodes of the Atlanta baseball team were once on the property of the Creeks -- until William McIntosh, the son of a Scottish trader and a Creek Indian woman, sold land he didn't really own to the U.S. government.

Chicago's NHL team wears the image of a Sauk chief who fought in vain to keep his people from being removed from Illinois.

And the end zones that are called "sacred ground" at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City were once the home of the Osage.

In other words, each of the five prominent Big Four sports teams that use Native American imagery and mascotry is essentially a Visitor. As Saunt wrote, "In light of the manifold struggles that America's first inhabitants have faced, attaching any Indian name to a multimillion-dollar sports franchise seems the most incongruous of honors."

Or, as Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute, says, "How would you feel if you had your home taken away from you and then watched as your identity was stolen for profit? It's adding insult to injury."

The struggle to get that identity back has been long and hard -- the National Congress of American Indians began education efforts in that regard in the 1940s. Thanks to the National Indian Youth Council and activist Clyde Warrior, the University of Oklahoma was finally persuaded to drop its "Little Red" mascot in 1970. In the past 40-plus years, pushed along by both Native American activists and socially conscious students and faculty, some 2,000 colleges, high schools, middle schools and elementary schools have dropped Indian-themed names, leaving about 1,000.

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