To Seattle Native Americans, Redskins Are the Shame of the Game

By Mike Wise
Saturday, January 14, 2006


As haters go, Kateri Joe is fairly tame. She does not want the team facing her hometown Seahawks in the NFC playoffs Saturday to be embarrassed or humiliated. In fact, she does not care much about football at all.

"But I'm dreading them coming," said Joe, a member of the Swinomish tribe, which resides about 70 miles north of Seattle. "I really don't want to hear how their nickname honors us.

"It's like we're slipping back in time. The fans with the war paint on their faces, the feathers, the bad costumes -- I mean, don't they know how that looks and makes us feel?"

Here atop Beacon Hill, on the south side of Seattle, is the nation's first and only urban Boys & Girls Club for Native Americans. It is called Iwasil (pronounced ee-wah-sil), which in the native Lushootseed language means "positive change."

At Iwasil, where Kateri Joe works as a tutor, none of the children wear baseball caps with pigmented Indians on them.

"You don't see any other ethnicity 'honored' this way," said Charlie Goodwin, 19, an intern and student at Iwasil. "You don't see people dressing up as Zulu warriors in cheetah loincloths. The NAACP would be all over that one, wouldn't they?"

Said Jena Paypay, 15: "How does one group of people decide for that group what honors them? If they would ask us, we would tell them, 'To us, "Redskin" is the "N" word.' "

Washington is part of the U.S. Census Bureau's Pacific States region, which has the country's second-largest concentration of Native Americans. There are roughly 30 tribes based in the Seattle area and about 75,000 Native Americans in the state. Nowhere but Arizona will Coach Joe Gibbs's players compete closer to the people who represent their controversial nickname.

Leading up to the game, the issue has grown into its own thread on Web sites devoted to the Seahawks and to Washington state news. The Seattle Times, honoring its 15-year policy of keeping Indian nicknames out of headlines and captions, allowed its writers to use the Redskins nickname only on first reference. All other references must read "Washington." At least one Seattle writer got an e-mail from an insulted District fan, who spelled out the nickname dozens of times. "See how easy it is to type?" it read.

The group of Iwasil teenagers stood in a half-circle Friday in the Boys & Girls Club's administration office. Among them were Karissa Chico, from the Pima and Papago tribes in Arizona. Paypay of the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota. Siblings Amy and Chris Johnson, in his New York Yankees cap, from the western Paiute, Tlingit and Shoshone tribes. And Goodwin, from the Blackfoot and Keetoowah tribes.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company