For some Native Americans, the birth of a white buffalo signifies prayers heard and consciousness raised. Several such births have been reported in recent years, and the prophesized enlightenment could take many forms. A new name for Washington's professional football team sure would be a welcome sign.
To illustrate the offensiveness of the name Redskins, I wrote a column Nov. 14 about an imaginary football game between the Whiteys and the Darkies. Of the responses I received, one stood out. Fellow Post columnist Marc Fisher, writing in this space Thursday, noted that my effort was "a strong appeal to our sense of fairness." Then he added: "But it was based on a fallacy."
Notice how quickly that compliment gets undercut. And Marc's claim that names such as Redskins are complimentary doesn't even last that long.
Citing the Southeastern Oklahoma State University Savages, he wrote, "Turns out that the chief of the Choctaw Nation defends the Savages. Instead of ripping the college for insensitivity, tribal officials are proud of the name and emphasize the school's support for the quarter of its students who are Indians."
That's not an example of pride. That's a sellout for school support.
Nevertheless, Marc's column was a succinct summation of the most common arguments for keeping the team name. As such, it offered insight into the mindset of the dominant culture -- a people in denial about the nation's history of racism. In justifying use of the name, they must rationalize oppression and minimize the harms done. It is truly a shame, for even some of the football players don't like the name.
Pro Football Inc., in fighting a lawsuit that seeks to ban disparaging images of native people in sports, has attempted to dismiss the plaintiffs as an inconsequential group of people that is representative of no one but themselves. In several legal briefs, the plaintiffs are referred to as "a mere handful of activist American Indians" and "fringe activist groups."
For his part, Marc cited two surveys -- one by Sports Illustrated, another by the University of Pennsylvania -- which purport to show that a majority of Native Americans are not offended by Indian mascots. Never mind that Native American organizations have conducted their own surveys -- using respondents who are actually native peoples -- and found that upward of 90 percent of those polled are offended by these names and depictions.
And forget that on Nov. 4, the National Congress of American Indians -- 11,000 members representing 187 nations meeting in Tulsa -- voted to "oppose the use of racist and demeaning 'Indian' sports mascots" and reiterated its support of the lawsuit against Pro Football Inc. The National Indian Education Association, the National Indian Youth Council and the Native American Rights Fund are unified in their support of the plaintiffs.
"The real question," Marc wrote, "is whether the trumped-up sensitivities of people who could be addressing, say, Indian poverty will be permitted to scrub away history at thousands of schools."
And just who are these people with the fake sensitivities?
One plaintiff was Vine Deloria of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who died last week. He had served as a Marine in World War II and was a lawyer and professor of history at the University of Colorado. "This is not just a disenfranchised few calling for something only a handful would agree with," he said of the lawsuit. "While American Indians, like other groups, are diverse in their views, most share a deep feeling of offense at terms like Redskins. Enough is enough. We don't want future generations of Indian children to bear this burden of discrimination."
Susan Harjo, the lead plaintiff, is a Muscogee (Creek) and daughter of Freeland Douglas, a World War II hero. Douglas served as code breaker with the Army's 45th Infantry Division, Company C, which helped liberate the Nazi concentration camps at Dachau. "These are mainstream people who fought for their country and are now fighting for respect from their country," Harjo said.
Examples of such Native Americans as Deloria and Douglas are often ignored by those who argue that the mascots or team names are inoffensive.
But times are changing. The U.S. Court of Appeals has refused to dismiss the lawsuit, and each friend-of-the-court brief offered on behalf of the plaintiffs sheds new light on just how abominable those names really are.
The prophecy of the white buffalo may yet come to pass.