The foundation Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder created to support Native Americans contributed $3.7 million during its first year, providing items such as vans, computers and winter coats for more than 20 tribes that desperately needed assistance.
The billionaire’s contributions were outlined in documents produced by the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation and in financial records being filed Friday with the IRS.
Both the team and organization’s involvement with tribes has created or exacerbated divisions inside several Native American communities and drawn condemnation from activists who allege that Snyder is merely trying to buy support for his franchise’s controversial name.
Arlen Quetawki doesn’t see it that way.
The former Pueblo of Zuni governor could think of no one who had done more for his people than Snyder. In gifts totaling $509,000, the foundation provided the New Mexico reservation with two vans, gave students more than 400 iPads and replaced the reservation’s dilapidated senior center.
In a place contending with poverty, substance abuse, gang violence and unemployment, Quetawki said, many in the 12,000-person tribe welcomed the help.
“There was very, very few — probably about 10 to 15 people — who objected to it,” he said. “I would always say, ‘What plans do you have? Instead of criticizing, give us a plan.’ ”
The just-released financial filing only covers spending from March 2014 through February 2015, but a spokesman said the nearly two-year-old foundation has worked on a total of 290 projects with 58 tribes.
Snyder, who insists that his team’s name honors Native Americans and has vowed not to change it, has accumulated a fortune so vast that he could give every Indian in the country $400 and still remain a multimillionaire afterward.
His organization renovated a pool, installed a playground and donated a van to a California tribe, records indicate. To one in Montana, it gave laptops and 300 iPads and funded a summer school program for kids.
In Nevada, members of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone received a new school bus and expect to have a playground built.
Gerald Temoke, an Elko Band Council member, helped obtain the assistance through his contact with foundation head Gary Edwards, who, according to the filing, earns an annual salary of $185,000.
The support, Temoke said, came without any pressure to support the name, which critics allege is a racial slur. He sees no reason for the moniker to change.
“That’s just crazy,” he said. “There’s people here, that’s their favorite team. They’re happy as hell we’re working with them.”
The local high school’s mascot, he added, is an Indian.
Washington’s name also doesn’t offend Boyd Gourneau, who helped arrange for his Lower Brule Sioux Tribe to receive a new playground, hundreds of winter coats, and new uniforms and shoes for the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams.
With his community facing so many other challenges, the tribe’s former vice chairman said the name debate was “the furthest thing from my mind.”
To illustrate his point, Gourneau thought back to the families given coats, which he guessed cost between $50 and $100 each.
“At the time, maybe it meant Christmas or not,” he said. “It had a bigger impact than people think.”
But Snyder’s involvement with tribes hasn’t always led to such positive outcomes.
Last summer — 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.
Another incident last year further illuminated just how ugly things can turn.
In April, 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 Robert Griffin III.
For the Paiute, the controversy was especially significant because one of its members, Phil Gover, is among a group of Native Americans challenging the Redskins’ trademark protections. He questioned Snyder’s motivation to aid his tribe.
“This isn’t an attempt to do good in Indian Country. It’s an attempt to divide people,” Gover said at the time, echoing a perspective held by many. “If the tribe accepts the gift, it lends the veneer of support. . . . The strings attached are your dignity.”
Quetawki, of the Zuni Pueblo, disagrees.
“That’s one thing we made specifically clear — that just because they’re helping us, that doesn’t mean we’re going to support you,” said Quetawki, who had another message for Snyder: “I told him I’m a die-hard Raider fan.”
Regardless of any Indian’s stance on the debate, Quetawki says he doesn’t understand how that issue compares to the struggle he and his people experience every day.
On a reservation 2,000 miles from Washington, where he has been without work for more than a year, the name of a sports team just doesn’t matter to him.
“We have a lot of problems in this community,” he said, “and that’s not one of them.”