The foundation Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder created to support Native Americans gave away less than half the money in its second year than it did in its first, a precipitous drop the organization declined to explain.
And although the number of beneficiaries also fell from 25 to 14, tribes in need did receive nearly $1.6 million of support for items such as computers, iPads, playgrounds, sports uniforms, vehicles, a basketball court and a senior center, according to financial records filed with the Internal Revenue Service and other documents provided by the organization.
A year earlier, the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation contributed $3.7 million to Indian causes. Snyder, estimated by Forbes to be worth $2.2 billion, is the sole donor.
“The foundation gave $1.6 million in products and services to Indian lands where the most people can be accommodated,” a foundation spokesman said. “As we hone the mission of the foundation, we will continue to try to find areas that have the highest impacts. . . . Sometimes it’s how you give and not how much.”
[Timeline: The furor over the Redskins’ name]
The foundation was set up in 2014 at a time when the team was under unprecedented pressure to change its name, which some Native American activists consider offensive. Since then, the fervor surrounding the issue has faded.
Nevertheless, in at least two cases, tribes that received support the first year refused it in the second, according to their leadership, who cited controversy over the team’s name. Native American activists have long condemned Snyder’s philanthropy as an attempt to buy support for the moniker, a dictionary-defined racial slur.
“My administration is completely opposed to taking any money from the organization,” said L. Jace Killsback, recently elected president of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana. “If they really wanted to be a good program, they wouldn’t essentially have tribes sell out to receive their donation.”
The Northern Cheyenne accepted almost $81,000 in help during the foundation’s first year — from March 2014 to February 2015, records show. The money paid for a van, facility upgrades and winter jackets and boots.
Killsback, a council member at the time, joined with others in objecting to the gifts, he said, but the then-president elected to take the donations.
Killsback criticized the decision as hypocritical. Years earlier, he and other tribe members had helped persuade a non-native Montana high school, nicknamed the Redskins, to change its moniker. The issue was already personal for Killsback, who said he grew up attending a school where white students used the term as an insult.
That made the Northern Cheyenne’s willingness to work with Snyder especially painful. Killsback said he “made such a huge deal about it” that the tribe avoided working with the foundation again.
“The name is the issue,” said Killsback, who said he does not find the team’s emblem offensive.
It was not the first or only time the foundation’s involvement with Indian country sparked dissension.
A year after accepting a $200,000 sponsorship from the foundation, the Indian National Finals Rodeo announced that it would take no money in 2015 and declared the moniker a slur. The Redskins organization alleged that anti-name activists promised rodeo officials a quid pro quo to denounce the mascot. The activists denied any such offer and declared the decision a significant win for their cause.
That same year, the leader of the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah was stripped of her job after the foundation paid for her family to attend a game in the District — and gave her a football signed by then-Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Hoping to avoid any such tumult, Montana’s Blackfeet Nation, which took more than $61,000 in the first year, accepted none in the second (March 2015 to February 2016).
“We’ve kind of been trying to steer clear from any controversial issues,” said council member Tyson Running Wolf, noting that none of the elected officials who accepted the support remain in office.
Running Wolf said he had no opinion on the name, but with the tribe facing a number of other complex challenges, he and his colleagues decided that continuing a relationship with the foundation was not worth the potential backlash.
Because the newest financial records cover spending only through early 2016, it remains unknown whether donations were affected by a Washington Post poll that found 9 in 10 Native Americans were not offended by the team’s name.
To a number of tribes, the controversy has never mattered anyway.
“It’s been a good relationship,” said Alice Tybo, council member for the South Fork Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone in Nevada. The $148,000 in support her tribe received over two years paid for a van as well as a playground with the Redskins logo on it.
“People love it,” Tybo said. “We’ve never received any backlash at all.”
Over the same span, $836,000 in donations to the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in Montana covered the cost of a playground, dozens of iPads, trips for kids to Washington and an assortment of rodeo-related activities.
Some tribe members were initially reluctant to accept support from Snyder, said Dustin White, who negotiated the help.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he recalled people asking. “It could cause a bad name for us.”
It hasn’t, he said, and the tribe intends to continue welcoming the foundation’s generosity in the years to come.
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