Defeating Racism

‘Today, we celebrate; tomorrow our fight continues’

Rebrand Washington Football members at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The group stands behind the former location of the George Preston Marshall statue, founder of the Washington NFL team. The group was out July 13, handing out free T-shirts and jersey patches to those who want to rebrand. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Indian Country Today)

Dalton Walker

Next up for advocates working to eliminate Native-themed mascots: Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta and more

Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

Shortly after the Washington NFL franchise announced it was finally dropping its racist name and logo after 87 years, advocates took to social media to say their work to rid Native mascot imagery wasn’t done.

Although Washington was often the main target for change, advocates have routinely rallied and marched against other sports teams with stereotypical names, logos and chants.

Now, that momentum aimed at team owner Dan Snyder and Washington all those years is shifting toward the Kansas City NFL franchise, the Chicago NHL franchise and professional baseball franchises in Cleveland and Atlanta, among others.

(Related article: Washington NFL team kicks R-word to the curb)

Amanda Blackhorse, Diné and longtime advocate for Native mascot imagery changes, said Monday that Kansas City, Chicago and Atlanta are next.

“We also must continue to call out other teams,” she said in a statement. “As well as numerous other high schools and junior high schools to change their names and racists traditions. Our work is not done.”

Others are speaking up as well, asking supporters for their thoughts on future steps.

“Today, we celebrate the elimination of this racial slur,” IllumiNative, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the visibility of Native people, tweeted Monday. “Tomorrow, our fight continues. Just one question, which is next?”

The tweet tagged the same three teams Blackhorse mentioned and added Cleveland.

IllumiNative Executive Director Crystal Echo Hawk, Pawnee, expanded it further to include sports teams at any level.

“We will not rest until the offensive use of Native imagery, logos and names are eradicated from professional, collegiate and K-12 sports. The time is now to stand in solidarity and declare that racism will not be tolerated,” Echo Hawk said in a statement Monday.

(Related article: Reactions to the Washington team name retirement)

Even as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought much-needed awareness about racial injustices across the nation, including a window that forced Snyder to change the team’s name, the work continues for many in Indian Country.

On July 3, the same day Snyder announced his franchise would undergo a “thorough review of the team’s name,” the Cleveland baseball team issued a statement saying it was looking for the “best path forward with regard to our team name.” The team only recently removed the controversial Chief Wahoo logo from uniforms and its home baseball field. It kept the name.

(Related article: Mascots honor and Indian who never was)

Meanwhile, the Atlanta baseball team told season-ticket holders in an email Monday that a name change “is not under consideration or deemed necessary.” The team did acknowledge the impact of its tomahawk chop chant and said it has formed a “Native American working group” that includes tribal leaders.

“As it relates to the fan experience, including the chop, it is one of the many issues that we are working through with the advisory group.”

Dropping the chop is possible, as one Native baseball player’s voice proved in 2019.

In October, the team said it reduced the chant in a playoff game with the St. Louis Cardinals after Cardinals pitcher Ryan Helsley, Cherokee, said it was disrespectful. The team said it did not distribute foam tomahawks to each seat or play the accompanying music or use chop-related graphics when Helsley was in the game.

The chop doesn’t end with baseball. It made its way to the Super Bowl in February with Kansas City competing in the NFL’s most popular game. The team has capitalized on stereotypical Native imagery and gestures for years and plays in a venue called Arrowhead Stadium.

The Kansas City NFL franchise has been quiet as other teams with stereotypical mascot imagery have at least issued statements or publicly communicated with fans.

A sports website that covers the football team recently listed potential mascot replacements. The top name replacement was Monarchs, after the 1920 Kansas City baseball team in the Negro Leagues. Another name mentioned, which perhaps makes the most sense, is the Wolves. The football team already has a wolf mascot called KC Wolf, which has been around since 1989.

(Related story: Never say NEVER about social change)

The Chicago hockey team is named after Black Hawk, a historic leader of the Sac and Fox Nation. The team has no plans to change its name or logo.

“We recognize there is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and we commend other teams for their willingness to engage in that conversation,” the team told the Chicago Tribune in a statement last week. “Moving forward, we are committed to raising the bar even higher to expand awareness of Black Hawk and the important contributions of all Native American people.”

A Canadian Football League team in Alberta is reviewing its controversial mascot and said in a statement that it will have an update at the end of July. “We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decision moving forward,” a statement on the Edmonton football team’s website said.

Retired NHL player Jordin Tootoo, Inuk, said many people have asked for his opinion, and he does not object to the team’s name.

“This does not mean they should keep the name,” he said in a July 8 statement. “But, I think the discussion should be around how the Inuk people feel about it. Some might feel pride. Some might feel hurt. Either way, that is the group that should be consulted.”

At least one professional sports team has moved on from its insensitive logo and has little to no history on its websites of logos or mascots of days past. The Philadelphia Warriors used a stereotypical Native character for years starting when the team formed in the 1940s. It moved to San Francisco in the 1960s and dumped the logo a few years later and changed to the Golden State Warriors. Today, the team is one of the most popular NBA franchises in the league and displays an image of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Native American Journalists Association has been calling for the end of racialized mascots in the media for years.

Once news broke that the Washington name change was coming, headlines on CNN, The New York Times, ESPN, CBS Sports and Washington Post, among others, displayed the R-word.

On June 23, NAJA issued a statement, joined by the National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, calling for immediate discontinuance of race-based sports mascots in media.

“This discontinuance should include clear policy development and implementation that clarifies the harm they cause and the practical editorial methods to avoid their use on all platforms,” the statement read.

“The continued portrayal of racialized mascots in news media directly violates fundamental tenets of professional journalism. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics makes clear that journalists should act to minimize harm.”

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter – @daltonwalker

DAPL’s deficient leak detection system

It appears that we’re in for a long, hot summer. People are rising up. Colonizer statues and racist mascots are coming down. And finally, winds of change are making their way to the D.C. courts. As you know, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) shut down by Aug. 5, pending environmental review.

Unfortunately, a D.C. court of appeals has granted DAPL operators short term, temporary relief on that order, extending the deadline for the pipeline to be emptied. The verdict, though, maintains the authority to halt operations at any time. In the interim, we’re releasing footage from our Chase Iron Eyes trial archive to illustrate what makes DAPL so dangerous in the first place and why we must keep pushing for it to be shut down for good. You can take a look at our new video about DAPL’s deficient leak detection system, and we hope you will watch and share it with your networks.

Lakota LawEnergy expert Steve Martin of the Chippewa Nation and attorney Peter Capossela explain the constant risks posed by Dakota Access.

Getting down to brass tacks, DAPL’s leak detection system is criminally inadequate. Actually, at the most critical area of stress for the existing pipeline, there isn’t even a detection apparatus in place. So, if and when DAPL springs a leak, oil could seep into the groundwater and rise to the surface before pipeline officials or local residents have any idea something is wrong.

A leak of this type could take place over the course of months, contaminating the water used to grow food and raise children on the nearby Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation.

As Indigenous energy executive Steve Martin points out in our video, it’s outrageous that water — the source of all life — isn’t regarded as more sacred. Why do we allow these dangerous pipelines to jeopardize our children’s future? Why is the money made from a barrel of oil more important than my community’s right to clean water and safe food? Not to mention the impacts on climate.

If you’d like to explore the issue further, we’ve also written an in-depth blog on the topic of DAPL’s leak detection system.

We’re in the midst of a great shift. While it didn’t begin with NoDAPL, I know from living at Oceti Sakowin camp for eight months — through police raids, surveillance, and blizzards — that embers from our sacred fires continue to find their way into the current moment. Let’s keep Trump and his oil cronies on the run. Hold the faith. Even bigger change is coming.

Wopila tanka — Thank you for standing with us to protect our water, our land, and our families!

Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Return the Black Hills

Less than one month ago, we marked the 40-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision awarding more than $100,000 million to the Great Sioux Nation as compensation for the federal government’s taking of the Black Hills. Just a few days later, President Trump’s visit to Mount Rushmore highlighted why we have never accepted that payment. No amount of money could possibly alleviate the pain we feel at the repeated desecration of one of our most sacred sites. True justice can only be accomplished one way: the return of the Black Hills to the Lakota people.

We’ve recently seen how people power can tear down monuments of hate and influence public policy — and we’ve also seen the backlash. I ask you today to watch the video of our protest action against Trump’s visit, and sign our Congressional petition to return the Black Hills to the Lakota people. If ever a moment existed when these wrongs could begin to be righted, this is it. Speaking together with one voice, let’s get lawmakers to abide by treaty law and return this sacred land to my people.

Lakota LawRenowned Artist Shepard Fairey created this beautiful mural in Los Angeles and later teamed with Lakota Law to distribute t-shirts with his incredible design.

The high court’s ruling shows that the law is on our side. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 assigned the Black Hills to us in perpetuity, but it didn’t take long for miners to violate that edict in search of gold. The federal government essentially allowed it to happen, eventually imposing upon us our current reservation boundaries. We have never accepted those boundaries nor the taking of our treaty land. The Black Hills are not for sale — and they never were.

Unless we act together to stop it, there’s no end to the colonial disrespect of our lands, sovereignty, and safety. Trump’s moronic, divisive visit to Mount Rushmore underscores the dangers to our democracy and the Lakota people. Predictably, COVID-19 is again on the rise in South Dakota, and community spread is especially serious around Mount Rushmore and our Oglala Nation.

That’s why we protested his coming, and that’s why it’s critical that you help us demand safety, justice, and the return of the Black Hills. Once we reach our goal of 20,020 names, our petition will go to Congress demanding #LandBack2020.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing with us to restore the sacred!

Chase Iron Eyes
Lead Counsel
The Lakota People’s Law Project