When the Washington Redskins meet the Dallas Cowboys Sunday at Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) Stadium, the real Indians will be performing before the game and at halftime.
The newly formed National Indian Honor Band and an accompanying pageant will be on hand for the gridiron version of Cowboys and Indians, which will be telecast nationally on CBS-TV (WTOP, Channel 9 in the Washington-area) starting at 4 p.m.
The program was conceived last year by John Olguin, from the Isleta Pueblo tribe in New Mexico, while Olguin worked as a policy planner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington. After Jim Robey, BIA director of policy planning, voiced skepticism, Olguin said, he approached Dr. William Demmeret Jr., director of the Indian education program, who gave his enthusiastic approval last November.
The 150 band members - high school and junior college students who are Indians - represent 80 tribes from 30 states. They will perform before the game with the football team and will offer a 10-minute program of their own at halftime.
Joining the pre-game entertainment will be students of the Jemez Pueblo Day School in New Mexico, who will perform a buffalo dance, and the Thunderbird dancers, recruited from the Eastern seaboard, who will offer traditional Plains Indian war dances. A 50-girl drill team from the Institute of American Indians Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, will interpret the national anthem in Indian sign language.
At halftime, the marching band, which will form Indian geometric designs, will be accompanied by 50 tribal dancers and the drill team.
Much of the music, dances and marches are original compositions of Dr. Louis Ballard, a Quapaw-Cherokee who directs the BIA music education program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
The effort is part of a new movement to re-establish American Indians as first-class citizens in the United States. Olguin cites job discrimination, low social status and a generally low opinion of Indians by the American public as barriers which must be overcome.
"I believe what's going to happen (at RFK) will be as significant as a takeover at Alcatraz," said Olguin, who now works for the National Education Association as a human relations specialist and lives in Vienna.
"The public will be aware that Indians can do something. The Indians will be aware that they can do something. And the Bureau of Indian Affairs, in spite of themselves, will realize that Indians can do something.
"People have neen ignoring us (American Indians) and I don't know why," said Olguin, who is serving as the liaison between the Redskins team and the BIA. "After this is over, the band will disband and go back to its tribes, but the American Indian music program will just be starting, now that there is an awareness."
"This is a new breed of Indian," said Richard Begay, a Navajo on loan from BIA to coordinate the affair. "For too long there have been people in authority who didn't show interest (in Indians) and created a vacuum."
Olguin, Begay and their group are trying to convince CBS to televise the Indian festivities instead of football replays and commentary.
The visit to Washington is part of a five-point program, coordinated by Ballard, to develop Indian arts and to provide opportunities and exposure to talented Indian youths, Olguin said. The eventual goal is to create a national Indian university for the arts.
The pageant was assembled in May and first performed last week in Brigham City. The assemblage flew to Washington Sunday and was to visit the White House before performing Tuesday at the Smithsonian Institution Museum of History and Technology.
The project will cost the BIA $150,000 and the organizers are sensitive about public reaction to the costs. But they point out that the cost is minimal when broken down over 250 participants.
Many of the performers, Olguin added, would otherwise never have a chance to visit the Nation's Capital.
Begay noted that the invitation by the Redskins marked a changing public attitude about American Indians. "It's very significant that the Redskins organization - (coach) George Allen and (owner) Edward Bennett Williams - and the American Indians can work together," Begay said. "It shows there is concern."