The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Oneida leader tells UN that ‘Redskins’ name is human rights issue

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Updated 5:10 p.m.

The Native American leader who met Friday with United Nations officials to discuss the name of Washington’s football team said he left with a commitment that the conversation would not end there.

“Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović expressed his commitment to continue a dialogue on this issue and to identity additional avenues within the United Nations human rights system to further investigate this issue,” Ray Halbritter, the representative for the Oneida Indian Nation, said in a statement.

The Oneida Indian Nation has emerged as one of the more vocal opponents of the team’s name, launching a national radio ad campaign and hosting a symposium on the topic.

Friday’s meeting was just its latest effort to combat a name that Halbritter and others describe as a racial slur aimed at Native Americans.

“During today’s meeting we discussed the incredibly constructive role that the UN has played globally in combating racism in sports,” Halbritter said. “We discussed the hope that Washington’s team might take the concrete step of eliminating the continued usage of the R-word epithet as a sign of their commitment to opposing racism and discrimination, rather than continuing to profit from the offensive brand.”

Team owner Daniel Snyder has said he will never change the name of the Washington Redskins and in a letter to fans called it “a badge of honor.”

Tony Wyllie, spokesman for the team, said in a statement, “Given all the wars around the world, starvation, famine and the nuclear proliferation problems the UN is dealing with, surely they have more important things to worry about than a football’s team name that is supported by the vast majority of the American people.”

Representatives from the United Nations could not be reached for comment Friday.

Joel Barkin, a spokesman for the Oneida Indian Nation said in response to Wyllie: “His quote is unfortunate but it’s not a surprise that the same organization that has built its business model off of slurring indigenous people would now be insulting an organization that represents hundreds of millions of indigenous people around the globe.”

Team officials have repeatedly pointed to polls that show the majority of fans and Native Americans do not find the name offensive. Snyder has also taken quiet trips to Indian Country to talk with Native Americans.

Among those who have come out against the name are President Obama, numerous media outlets and clergy leaders. Last month, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of the nation’s leading civil rights groups, passed a resolution urging Snyder to change the name.

“This issue is not going away until the offensive name is retired,” Halbritter said.