On Sunday, as many as 5,000 people marched on the Minnesota-Washington football game in the Twin Cities, with a simple message for DC’s seething carbuncle of an owner, Dan Snyder: change the damn name of your franchise. Change your mascot from the dictionary-defined slur of Native Americans and enter the twenty-first century.
Washington Post columnist Mike Wise, who live-tweeted the protest, quoted activist Samuel Wounded Knee, who told to the crowd, “My kids don’t want to be your mascots. Our culture is not for your fun and games.” Other speakers, from American Indian Movement veteran Bill Means to Native American environmental leader Winona LaDuke to civil-rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory, spoke out openly against what protester Julie Tilsen described to me as the “three c’s: colonization, commodification, and capitalism.” Even US Congresswoman Betty McCollum, the co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus, was compelled to “speak truth to power” and called out the “genocide” that makes a name like “Redskins” a reality.
Tilsen also pointed out the chills produced by seeing retired Minnesota North Stars veteran Henry Boucha, speak out as “an indigenous person, and as a Minnesotan,” and Spike Moss, a local African-American community leader calling upon black NFL players to learn the long history of intertwined resistance between between indigenous and black communities.
It was a collection of confident voices, as people “across genders, ages and other social locations” were “calling shit out left and right,” signifying a movement in its ascendancy. But to understand how this anti-“Redskins,” anti-racist resistance has exploded onto the landscape, far too many people are finding its source in individual sports media members who refuse to use the name, or they identify it in a mass revulsion to Snyder’s political halitosis. But the answer actually lies north of the border, where a new generation of First Nations people are on the march, inspiring pueblos and reservations in the United States and beyond. The movement is known as Idle No More, and if you don’t understand Idle No More, then you cannot understand why the thousands gathered to demonstrate outside of a football game.
I spoke with Erica Lee, a Cree Idle No More organizer in Canada. Lee first cut her political teeth by organizing to end the racist mascot at her high school. She told me:
The strength of today’s protest demonstrates the growing shift in consciousness around issues of Indigenous representation. As we come up on the second anniversary of the first Idle No More teach in, there are now more and more Indigenous voices entering and changing discourses on mascots, land claims, and historical events. Thanks to social and alternative media, we now have the opportunity to tell our own stories, rather than someone speaking for native people and claiming they know what “honors” us. Snyder and the Washington team are fighting a losing battle. At this point, it’s clear that the issue won’t simply go away. Our voices and resistance are only growing stronger.