Chiefs of three Virginia tribes say they have no problem with ‘Redskins’

May 15, 2013

(Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

If you thought the declaration that the Washington Redskins would never change their name would be the end of the discussion, you thought wrong. Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Paul Woody reached out to the chiefs of the Patawomeck, Pamunkey and Rappahannock tribes in Virginia to see how they felt about the name, and their responses were not split down the middle.

Robert Green and Kevin Brown, the chiefs of the Patawomeck and Pamunkey, said they weren’t bothered, and neither were the majority of their tribes. The chief of the Rappahannock Tribe, G. Anne Richardson, had perhaps a more biting response to Woody’s question.

“I don’t have an issue with it,” she said. “There are so many more issues that are important for the tribe than to waste time on what a team is called. We’re worried about real things, and I don’t consider that a real thing.

“We’re more worried about our kids being educated, our people housed, elder care and the survival of our culture. We’ve been in that survival mode for 400 years. We’re not worried about how some ball team is named.”

Oomph.

Yet for those who find the name offensive, the issue is not going away. And it’s not completely media-driven. In Cooperstown, N.Y., the high school is changing its athletic teams’ nicknames from Redskins to Hawkeyes and is reaping a $10,000 reward from the Oneida Nation.

Amanda Blackhorse, the named plaintiff in the federal suit that aims to strip the team of its trademark rights, was profiled in USA Today late last week. Among many other things, she talks about being mocked outside of Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium before a Chiefs-Redskins game, and how it strengthened her view.

“We assembled peacefully and we carried signs,” Blackhorse said. “We carried flags for the tribes we represented, to show that we are proud people and very diverse, from many different tribes. We wanted to show that we are human beings, not mascots.

“They yelled at us, ‘Get over it.’ And, ‘Go back to your reservation.’ And all the stereotypical things that we are all alcoholics: ‘Why don’t you go get drunk?’ And they shouted so many profanities that I won’t repeat.”

Several Post columnists have weighed in with their views in favor of changing the name. The AP released a poll in which 4 of 5 people were in favor of the status quo.

Woody, in the interest of full disclosure, has long been one of my favorite columnists. He often takes a thoughtful, balanced view on an issue, and this here is no different. Although he counts himself in the crowd who thinks the name should be changed, he went to the folks whose opinions should matter most. They told him roundly that they don’t much care.

How to square that with Amanda Blackhorse’s experience?

Why is the name itself so important to hang on to anyway? Altering the name doesn’t wipe clean the team’s history, the players who came before, the experiences fans had rooting for them growing up. That’s what happens when the SuperSonics leave Seattle, not when, say, Syracuse University de-emphasizes the use of Native American imagery in their athletic program.

Most people have a pretty strong feeling one way or another. Try looking at it from the other view. Is it still so cut and dried?

More on the franchise’s name:

Snyder says franchise will ‘never’ change its nickname

AP poll: Four in five say don’t change ‘Redskins’

D.C. Sports Bog: May 3 roundup of opinions on the issue

Redskins name change demanded at Smithsonian forum

Wise: Only RGIII can make the Redskins change their name

Name change would have to pass muster with NFL decision-makers

McCartney: Time to take a stand

General manager Bruce Allen says no plans to change the name

Bog: Larry Michael says vote name-change politicians out of office

Wikipedia entry on ‘Washington Redskins name controversy’

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