Among the marchers were Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, who is Native American, along with Minnesota state Reps. Mary Kunesh-Podein and Jamie Becker-Finn and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, an Oakton High graduate. D.C. Council Member David Grosso (I-At Large), an outspoken critic of the team name, also attended.
The protest, organized by the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media along with the local native tribes, was significantly smaller than a similar protest the last time the Redskins played in Minnesota in 2014. That rally drew an estimated 4,000 people.
While this wasn’t as large, those who came spoke strongly against the Redskins’ name — which remains one of the most prominent and controversial uses of Native American terminology and imagery in professional sports.
“I think this is probably the most hurtful team name for our people,” said Charlie Vig, the chairman of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community about 45 miles from Minneapolis.
Nearby, Chad Germann, a member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe tribe, scrolled though his cellphone looking for the photo of an old newspaper ad he had found. The ad, he said after the picture finally appeared, was from an American newspaper in the 1850s.
“The state reward for dead Indians has increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory,” the ad read. “This sum is more than the dead bodies of all the Indians east of the Red River are worth.”
Many of the protesters said the name Redskins is more offensive than Indians or Braves because Redskins was a word white people used when scalping Native Americans.
“Where in the schools today do you get a good education about the American Indians?” asked Melanie Benjamin, the chief executive of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
On Wednesday, Rep. Betty McCollum (D.-Minn.) decried Washington’s team name as a “racist slur” on the floor of the House of Representatives.
“It’s remarkable that the NFL commissioner and owners continue to sanction the racist and shameful use of the term Redskin to describe Native Americans and then profit from it,” said McCollum, a co-chair emeritus of the congressional Native American Caucus who attended Thursday’s protest.
Use of Native American names and images has remained controversial in the sports world. While Redskins owner Daniel Snyder repeatedly has said he will not change his team’s name, many teams at the college, high school and other levels have done so in recent years.
The Cleveland Indians phased out Chief Wahoo, a logo featuring a caricature of a grinning Native American, after the 2018 season. Before a playoff game this month, the Atlanta Braves discontinued handing fans foam tomahawks after a player for a rival team, a member of the Cherokee Nation, complained that he found it “disrespectful.”
In 2014, 50 U.S. senators signed letters to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, urging his league to “formally support and push for a name change for the Washington football team.” Redskins President Bruce Allen responded by sending a letter to then-Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid in which he said, “Our use of ‘Redskins’ as the name of our football team for more than 81 years has always been respectful of and shown reverence toward the proud legacy and traditions of Native Americans.”
In a 2013 letter to fans, Snyder asserted: “I’ve listened carefully to the commentary and perspectives on all sides, and I respect the feelings of those who are offended by the team name. But I hope such individuals also try to respect what the name means, not only for all of us in the extended Washington Redskins family, but among Native Americans too.”
A few months before, Snyder had taken a more strident approach, telling USA Today: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”
Last year, Goodell indicated that he would continue not to make an overt push for Snyder to change the name, saying that the owner “has really worked in the Native American community to understand better their perspective.”
Bieler reported from Washington.