The Redskins team name has been discussed on the House floor several times by Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Samoa’s non-voting delegate.
And several outspoken members of Congress have talked about the issue in several different venues.
But a new advocate took to the mic on the House floor Tuesday morning: Rep. Dan Maffei (D-NY).
Acknowledging that many of you don’t care, I still think part of my job is to mention it when a member of Congress talks about a D.C. sports team on the House floor. Plus, he added a new twist, at the end of his speech.
“Mr. Speaker, George Washington himself respected the Native Americans of this country and their culture,” Maffei said. “Shouldn’t the NFL team that bears his name do the same?”
“Mr. Speaker, I am proud to represent Central New York, home of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. This is also known as the Iroquois, and it includes the Mohawks, the Oneidas, [the Onondagas], the Senecas, the Cayugas and later the Tuscarora. It spreads across New York, and was one of the earliest civil governments in territory that now lies within the United States and Canada.
“Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the Oneida’s leader, Ray Halbritter’s efforts to change the name of the Washington D.C. National Football League team. The name of the Washington football team is derogatory to the Native Americans of this country. For many Native Americans across the land, the name of the Washington Football Team is a deeply personal reminder of a legacy of racism and generations of pain. The current campaign to change the team’s name is supported by many groups and individuals, including Native American organizations, civic and government leaders, editorial boards, and many leaders, including my colleagues Rep. Betty McCollum and Tom Cole, and many others in a non-partisan effort. President Obama said recently ‘If I were the owner of the team, and I knew there was a name of the team, even if it had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.’
“I wholeheartedly join this effort. I also believe the owner of the Washington team and other NFL owners should meet with the Oneidas, as they have requested. How can we achieve mutual understanding unless they are willing to meet?
“Mr. Speaker, in my office, and with me now, I keep a replica of a belt, a two-row wampum belt called the Guswenta. It was lent to me by the Onondagas, and it symbolizes one of the first treaties between the Native Americans and the Europeans, concluded in 1613, between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee. The two rows of Wampum, which are beads made out of shells, represent Europeans and Native Americans, and they’re equal in size and travel together along a strip of white, representing peace. It was, and still is, a symbol of friendship and community.
“Although the years since this treaty was concluded have seen much devastation and tribulation for Native Americans, today the Haudenosaunee endure and maintain their culture. Now, we have much to do to improve our relationship between our two peoples, after centuries of strife, conflict and repression. But so many are working to mend the rifts, and restore the promise of brotherhood and respect that this treaty belt contains. I joined a group of canoers last summer, Native Americans, European Americans, Asian and African Americans, who rode together across upstate New York and to New York City to commemorate this 400-year old agreement.
“Wouldn’t it be great if, in order to show reverence and respect for the Haudenosaunee and the Native American tribes across this country, that we continue to do these things? And wouldn’t it be great if, in the 400th anniversary of this groundbreaking treaty, we could right the wrong, and change this NFL team’s name?
“Mr. Speaker, this treaty was perhaps the first, but it wasn’t the last. In November of 1794, George Washington — whose portrait is one of only two portraits in this hallowed hall — through his official representative, [Timothy] Pickering, George Washington concluded the Treaty of Canandaigua with the Haudenosaunee. President Washington had a six-foot long treaty belt fashioned to ratify this treaty — that our two peoples should live in peace and friendship. Mr. Speaker, George Washington himself respected the Native Americans of this country and their culture. Shouldn’t the NFL team that bears his name do the same?”