Friday, May 27, 2005

American Indians Among Admirers Of Redskins Name

From Mark Fisher writing in the Washington Post:
Interestingly, most of the people who sizzle with outrage over Indian team names and mascots are not Indians. American Indians can be found vigorously arguing on both sides. Academics are split, too: Anthropologists call team names and mascots humiliating, while linguists say “redskin” describes “stalwart attributes.” Even dictionaries disagree (the Oxford English says “redskin” is “generally benign,” while Webster’s says it is “usually offensive”).

There are at least three versions of the name’s origin. The official story, says team spokesman Karl Swanson, is that when the Boston Braves football team left Braves Field to play at Fenway Park in 1933, owner George Preston Marshall needed a new name for his squad.

He chose Redskins in honor of Lone Star Dietz, the team’s coach and an Indian who often wore an eagle feather headdress, beaded deerskin jacket and buckskin moccasins. Dietz brought four to six — accounts vary — Indian players with him to Boston from the Haskell Indian School in Kansas, where he had coached for four years.

Another version has the team being named for the white men who dressed up as Indians to stage the Boston Tea Party at the start of the American Revolution. Yet another genesis story says the name stems from the colored clay that Plains Indians used to paint themselves for tribal ceremonies.

Whichever version is right, “the reality is more benign than people on both sides of the fence are attributing to it,” says sports historian and museum consultant Frank Ceresi. “The name was meant very, very positively.”
Fischer then goes on to explain how the Redskins, who by the 60s had pretty much abandoned Indian imagery, restored it:
But it is clear that the Boston Redskins, who moved to Washington in 1937, sought to capitalize on their Indian players and coach: The team played wearing red war paint. And Indian players from the time considered the name and trappings an honor.

So does Walter Wetzel, former chairman of the Blackfoot tribe and president of the National Congress of American Indians in the 1960s. By the early ‘60s, the Redskins had dropped any reference to Indians in their logo, uniforms and merchandise. Wetzel went to the Redskins office with photos of Indians in full headdress.

“I said, ‘I’d like to see an Indian on your helmets,’” which then sported a big “R” as the team logo, remembers Wetzel, now 86 and retired in Montana. Within weeks, the Redskins had a new logo, a composite Indian taken from the features in Wetzel’s pictures. “It made us all so proud to have an Indian on a big-time team. . . . It’s only a small group of radicals who oppose those names. Indians are proud of Indians.”
This, of course, is the sort of history the politically correct crowd ignores.

2 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

Here's the response I wrote to Fisher about his column:

When you say, "Interestingly, most of the people who sizzle with outrage over Indian team names and mascots are not Indians"—well, of course, since about 99% of Americans aren't Indians. The more important question is what percent of Indians and non-Indians oppose "redskins." From what I've seen, the percent of Indians who oppose this word may approach 80%.

When you say, "Another version has the team being named for the white men who dressed up as Indians to stage the Boston Tea Party at the start of the American Revolution. Yet another genesis story says the name stems from the colored clay that Plains Indians used to paint themselves for tribal ceremonies," you've confused two things. One is how the Washington team chose the term "redskins" for its name. That may include the Lone Star Dietz and Boston Tea Party theories. Another is where the term "redskins" originally came from. That includes the "red clay" theory and a leading theory you didn't mention: that "redskins" came from the European practice of collecting bloody Indian scalps for bounties.

Quoting Wetzel without quoting an Indian who disagrees with him is bad journalistic practice, unfortunately. Any search would identify thousands of Native people who would tell you Wetzel doesn't know what he's talking about. I hope you'll consult with one of them next time you write about the subject.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

Actually, why the team chose the name and the origin of the word are irrelevant to this question. Indians and the general public have considered "Redskins" a slur for decades if not centuries. For that reason alone, the name should go.

For more on the subject, see Red·skin n. Dated, Offensive, Taboo.

10:33 AM  

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