Two years ago, San Carlos Apache chairman Terry Rambler was at the White House, meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss the “racially offensive” name of the Washington Redskins.
Last week, Rambler was in blackface.
On Sunday, the Arizona tribe leader posted a Facebook photo of himself dressed as Bob Marley for Halloween, complete with fake dreadlocks and blackface makeup.
The picture has caused outrage, especially given Rambler’s own public protests against racism towards Native Americans.
“This is a man who has derided sports organizations who have done the very same thing,” Rev. Jarrett Maupin, a civil rights campaigner and “Black Lives Matter” activist, told the BBC. “It’s hard for me to accept that he didn’t know what he was doing or the message he has conveying.”
“We are very upset about it,” said Maupin, who is also from Arizona and has worked with Rambler and other tribal leaders to combat discrimination. He called Rambler’s blackface costume a “betrayal.”
The costume was “a huge statement considering he’s the leader of a sovereign nation,” Maupin told the BBC, calling for Rambler to step down.
It was almost exactly two years ago that Rambler and 11 other tribal leaders met with Obama in the White House’s Roosevelt Room to discuss, among other things, discrimination against Native Americans by American sports teams, according to USA Today.
On that day, Rambler applauded Obama for the president’s previous comments that he would “think about changing” the team’s name if he were the owner, something actual team owner Daniel M. Snyder has refused to consider.
Since then, Rambler has continued to play a prominent role in the push to remove “racially offensive” mascot names, including that of the Redskins.
That did not stop Rambler from donning an equally offensive Halloween costume of his own, however.
On Halloween, Rambler posted a photo of himself dressed in blackface, fake dreadlocks, a Rastafarian hat, a Bob Marley “One Love” t-shirt and an Arizona Cardinals necklace.
“Trick or treat. Happy Halloween,” he wrote alongside a photo — later reposted by Independent Journal — showing him with a group of children. “Please be safe.”
“I had fun tonight at the Bylas Halloween Carnival,” he wrote next to another photo posted Sunday, the Washington Times reported. “I joined up with the Bylas Wellness Program and gave out information & candy and set up a ring toss booth. It was so awesome seeing the happy and enthusiastic faces of our children.”
In the second photo, Rambler makes a peace sign.
The photos quickly stirred a backlash, even among members of Rambler’s own San Carlos Apache tribe.
“Natives out here trying to fight cultural appropriation and stereotypes but then our chairman is doing this?” one man commented on Facebook on Sunday morning. “It’s 2015 get out of here with that #blackface. SMH” (shake my head).
Four days would pass, however, before Rambler appeared to have realized his mistake.
“Recently, I posted on my Facebook page a picture of my Halloween costume dressed up in reggae style,” he wrote on Thursday morning. “I did this thinking I wanted to dress up as one of my favorite musicians, Bob Marley. But in hindsight, it was a poor choice I made. I am not a racist and I did not mean to offend anyone but I realize I did. There is no one to blame but me. I take full responsibility for my action.
“So this morning, I asked my Creator to forgive me for the poor choice I made, as I did not mean to offend his children. I love my Creator’s children. With the humbling experience I have had in life, I appreciate and respect my surroundings more, especially the people. I will continue to ask my Creator for forgiveness as I am not perfect but I realize asking for forgiveness means not repeating the action.
“I ask for forgiveness from the public and to anyone I may have offended.
“As a public official, as a leader and Chairman of the great San Carlos Apache Tribe, I ask my people for forgiveness, as I did not mean to shine a negative light on my people nor my family.”
From his Facebook apology, it appears as if Rambler cut short his visit to Washington. Thursday was the 7th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, the same forum at which he and other tribal leaders discussed discrimination towards Native Americans with Obama two years ago.
Perhaps Rambler was worried that this time around, the president wouldn’t be too happy to see him.