With a national movement aimed at changing a controversial pro football team’s nickname gaining steam, the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation’s tribal chairman has some advice for Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
“Nobody will remember Dan Snyder in 20 years if he does nothing and leaves the name,” said Tex Hall, chairman of the MHA Nation. “But if Dan Snyder made a move to work with tribes and come up with a different nickname, he’ll have a lasting legacy as someone who wanted to make a bridge with the tribes and do something good. Everybody would remember him for many years to come.”
During a meeting of the MHA Nation Tribal Business Council on Oct. 10, a resolution titled “Rename the Washington Redskins” was passed unanimously, according to a release sent Friday to The Dickinson Press by MHA Nation public information officer Glenda Baker Embry.
The topic has garnered national attention in recent weeks following comments from President Barack Obama and others, including NBC Sports broadcaster Bob Costas, questioning whether the National Football League franchise should start searching for a new moniker.
Controversy about the nickname, perceived by some as offensive in nature, is not new. Protests were staged outside what was then known as the Metrodome in Minneapolis when Washington last played in a Super Bowl in 1992.
The Congressional Native American Caucus sent a letter dated Oct. 18 to Minnesota state and local leaders and NFL officials asking that the Redskins be referred to only as “Washington” during the team’s visit to Minnesota for a game against the Vikings scheduled for Nov. 7.
In the one-page MHA Nation resolution, the Redskins name is referred to as being “highly offensive and demeaning to Native Americans” and points to perceived offensive language in the team’s unofficial fight song, “Hail to the Redskins.”
“We talked about it and felt that it was time for the MHA Nation to take a stand,” Hall said. “Saying ‘Redskins’ is like saying the N-word. Black people, or any race of people, would not want to have a nickname like the ‘Whiteskins’ or the ‘Jewskins.’ It’s very offensive and there is no way, in this day and age, that you can say that that name is honoring tribes.”
In public statements, Snyder has pledged that he will fight any effort to change the team’s nickname, which has been associated with the team since shortly after its inception in 1933 in Boston.
A number of college and high school mascots have been changed from Native American themes in recent years, including a push from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which led to the University of North Dakota dropping its “Fighting Sioux” nickname.
“It’s time that this happens,” Hall said. “The NFL should follow what the NCAA has done. The Fighting Sioux in Grand Forks had to change, so why not the Washington Redskins franchise? They’ve made enough money off that name. If you polled Americans, I think they feel the same way.”
Hall said he is not opposed to all Native American nicknames - pointing to Florida State University’s continued use of its “Seminoles” nickname after working out an agreement with local tribes - but that any mascots viewed as demeaning should be changed.
“If a race of people, in our case there are 566 federally recognized tribes, feel its offensive, then the name should be considered derogatory and should be changed,” Hall said. “Our tribe’s position is that ‘Redskins’ is derogatory. It came from taking scalps and taking bounty. There’s just no excuse for the name, and I don’t understand why Dan Snyder would want to fight to the end for something that’s derogatory. He needs to come into the 21st century.”
Hall added that he is urging Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., both of whom serve on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, to take initiative to begin hearings on the subject.
When contacted for this story, press representatives for Heitkamp did not return messages left Friday and Saturday as of Saturday evening, while Don Canton, as spokesman for Hoeven, said the senator was unavailable for comment.