On Wednesday, the NFL franchise revealed its new name and logo, as well as its uniforms, 18 months after dropping its old name of 87 year. Many Indigenous people find the "Washington Redskins" name and branding offensive. They view it as a slur as well as a demeaning stereotype, based in America's history with violence against Native Americans.
Suzan Harjo (76 years old advocate) called the name change "a big step forward".
Harjo was thrilled to finally win after years of disappointment. Harjo didn't expect much when Daniel Snyder, the owner of the team, announced in 2020 that they would be changing their name to avoid corporate pressure. Although she had seen some promising signs since the 1960s when her attempts to change names of schools and teams was underway, progress was slow.
She watched in 2009 as the Supreme Court refused to hear her petition to end a long-running legal challenge to the name. Lower courts had dismissed the case on a technicality. Snyder refused to budge even though Obama had weighed in on it and stated that he would "think about changing the name" if he owned this team.
She said that you could be proud of it and say "Well, you know, how long it took", but at the bottom it is amazing.
It's one she believes represents a social sea change.
She said that "a lot of people now understand it." "That it is not okay to use demeaning terms, derogatory name, images, or behaviors."
Native Americans have felt deep pain from the name.
Harjo says that the "R-word" is inseparable with harmful, racist attitudes, which Harjo believes have led to "emotional, and physical violence" against Native Americans.
She said, "If it's permissible for us to say such things, such names to us, then it is permissible for us to do anything to them."
Harjo, who is a member the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes, said that she used that word for many things in her personal life. "When I was young, it was difficult to get through my teenage years without being attacked by white people. They would always use that word."
Linguists and historians have long debated the origins of the term. Some claim that "redskin wasn't meant to be an insult. Harjo, among others, believes that the term "redskin" refers to the horrific act of skinning and hunting down their ancestors for cash.
Protests for racial equality were a tipping point.
Snyder ignored the years of litigation and advocacy from Native American activists to push for the change. He claimed that his team's name was a "badge-of-honor" that honored a long tradition. The tipping point came in 2020. The death of George Floyd caused a moment in American racial reckoning that led FedEx, the title sponsor of the team , to threaten to cut all ties with the team, unless it changed its name.
According to Fawn Sharp, NCAI president, there was no consultation by the NFL team with the National Congress of American Indians during discussions about a new name.
The Washington Commanders did not respond to our request for comment on their name-change process.
Many teams continue to use disreputable names.
Sharp learned about the new team name last week, just like the rest. Sharp believes the "Commanders' moniker is appropriate.
Sharp, also vice president of Quinault Indian Nation in Washington said that "it seems right in accord with how they are related to tribal nations." "On one hand, they are saying that they will be inclusive. On the other, it's clearly taking a commanding role in making this [change] without one meeting with us.
She says that the formal name change is "the end to a dark age." Sharp stated that it means younger generations won't be able to walk into the stadium in Washington, D.C., which "exploits some our most sacred practices."
She knows that the movement isn’t over, as hundreds upon of teams continue to use disparaging names, logos, or mascots that reference Native Americans.
Harjo believes it's only a matter time before other professional sports teams do the same -- the Atlanta Braves (Kansas Chiefs), and the Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks).